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81 year-old Kenny Van Blargen Placed in an Induced Coma After Sprint Car Wreck

Automobile racing has always been one of the most, and exciting sports that has ever been viewed by the many fans who attend these weekly speed contests. The chance of the inevitable happening follows each driver lap after lap, as they compete for the right to be named as the best on that given day or night. Along with the thrill of watching each driver posses the skill it takes to maneuver their high speed vehicles in this competitive game of cat and mouse, also comes the risk of pushing the envelope a little too far which can and usually ends in a misfortune accident.

[media-credit name=”Bobby Kimbrough” align=”alignright” width=”217″][/media-credit]Whether it be at one of the many local short tracks around the country, or the highly visible NASCAR touring series, the risk these drivers put themselves in for our enjoyment can almost be likened to coming face to face with the grim reaper. Accidents of any magnitude are always bone chilling and scary, since we never know to what extent the driver is hurt until they are taken from the carnage and checked out by the medical staff.

Just last season there was a 35-lap race between former NASCAR drivers, Cale Yarborough, Dave Marcis, Rick Wilson, Phil Parsons, LD Ottinger, Jack Ingram, Tommy Houston, Jimmy Hensley, Larry Pearson, David Pearson, Charlie Glotzbach, and Harry Gant. The legends race, which was run after the Scotts Turf Builder 300 Nationwide race at the Bristol Motor Speedway, was marred by a horrific crash with five laps left between 56 year-old Larry Pearson, and 71 year-old Charlie Glotzbach.

Rescue workers had to cut the top of Pearson’s No. 21 car completely off to help extricate the driver, and afterward,  Pearson was airlifted to Bristol Regional Medical Center as the crowd watched with a deafening silence. Pearson suffered a compound fracture of his left ankle that required surgery that same evening, along with a fracture of his pelvis and a fractured right hand.

Ex-NASCAR driver Shane Hmiel also escaped death last season while attempting to qualify his USAC Silver Crown race car at Terre Haute Action Track in Indianapolis. Hmiel broke his neck in two places, and suffered a broken back as well and is still recovering from his injuries.

Tragedy struck again this past Saturday night during a USAC event, when 81 year-old Kenny Van Blargen, who resides in Paso Robles, California was airlifted by medical helicopter to United Medical Center in Las Vegas Saturday evening from the center field of Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, AZ.  Reports indicate that Van Blargen was traveling around 25 to 35 mph in a 50 year-old Vintage Sprint open seat race car at the time of impact, because of a yellow flag  when his car climbed the wheel of another car and overturned.

The accident occurred early in the evening during a heat race with about a thousand fans in attendance who witnessed the wreck. “The car had very little damage to it, and its part of racing,” said Bill Rozhon, track promoter and race director at the speedway.  Rozhon also added that, “When something like this happens everybody is shocked,” Rozhon said. “When people get hurt, people are concerned … it was very gloomy here.” It took rescue workers which included two paramedics and four track-safety-clean-up guys about 30 minutes, to get Van Blargen out of the car and into the waiting helicopter for the ride to the medical center.

Rozhon said, “The River medical ambulance and the fire department responded immediately after 911 was initially called, and it took six guys to get him out.” Van Blargen was coherent and even though he had reflexes, he is still suffering from a broken neck and has a breathing tube. Rozhon, 64, said he has been around racing all his life and, as far as wrecks go, has seen some real nasty ones. “There’s no such thing as an average crash,” he said. “Things just happen. Some things are just out of our control.”  Van Blargen was put in an induced coma for six days to keep him still.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


  1. Driver needs your help
    Driver Needs Your Help Veteran race car driver, Kenny Van Blargen of Paso Robles, Calif., was seriously injured in a WRA, (Western Racing Association), vintage car race in Havasu City, Ariz. on Saturday 3/12/11. The accident took place during a main even… re-start. He ran over a wheel and flipped hard in his open cockpit sprint car. He was air lifted to University Hospital in Las Vegas where he underwent major surgery for serious neck and spinal cord injuries. Kenny is a long time racer who has won literally hundreds of races. He raced hard-tops and jalopys in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He moved to the NASCAR modifieds and super modifieds in the latter 1960’s and 1970’s and from there to sprint cars. He ran some races with the CRA, California Racing Association, but mainly raced at local tracks in central California. He was a many time winner in everything he drove and has numerous track championships to his credit. While his insurance will help cover a good portion of his medical expenses and rehabilitation, it will not cover it all nor does it cover any of the cost of transporting him back to California to a rehabilitation center. This will be quite costly as he must travel by medi-vac, air. His family and friends have opened an account in his behalf for donations to help with his transportation back to a California rehabilitation facility and to help with his other numerous ongoing expenses. Kenny entertained the crowds during his career which spanned into 7 different decades. Now he needs the help of his friends and fans. Please write donation checks to: FBO: Kenny Van Blargen and mail them to; Santa Lucia Bank P.O. Box 1947 Paso Robles, Calif. 93447 By: Robert Woodland

  2. Kevin, your 80 yr old grandfather obviously didn’t make racing his life as Kenny Van Blargen and numerous others have. As the 51 yr old daughter of someone who raced to put food on the table for a family of 5, and raced a number of times right along side Kenny, you (Kevin) or anybody else isn’t going to tell these guys, regardless of their age “your to old to drive a race car”. It’s in their blood and the rest of us just have to deal with it and accept it. My heart goes out to Kenny and his family. Knowing that this accident happened in a car that my own father raced has also pulled at my heart just a tad. Hang in there Kenny!!! All of us from the “old days of racing” are all saying a prayer for you!

  3. As one of the pioneers in racing we have always cheered him on and he is always a hero for us “kids” in Paso Robles. Kenny was doing what he loved and our prayers are with him. “Just Go Fast” is what he always said. I pray he does.

  4. What is an 81 year old doing driving a race car? My 80 Year old Grandfather isn’t even allowed to drive a car on the streets! Caution or no Caution, he shouldn’t be out there, the mind dulls and the reflexes aren’t sharp enough to allow for someone this age to by driving a race car!
    Not to mention the Legends race @ Bristol that should never have been run last year. These guys were driving with open face helments and goggles with cars that didn’t have near the safety enhancements that todays cars have. I don’t know who allows this kind of stuff to happen, but people need a reality check sometimes. There gets a point where a man should act his age as opposed to his shoe size.

    I do wish Mr Kenny Van Blargen a full and speedy recovery from his injuries and my thoughts and prayers are with his family. I just hope this is the end of Mr. Van Blargen’s racing days.

    If he still wants to race, set him up with an iRacing simulator!

    • I’ve raced with Kenny. He’s as competent now as he was 55 years ago, when I first saw him race. He looks (and acts) younger than me; and I’m 72. He’ll pull out of this. He’s tough as a bull. It is just unfortunate that too many folks judge others by there own incompetence. I think I know what happened; and if I’m right, the fault was not Kenny’s.

      Amateurs and spectators often decry having to “suffer” the seasoned skill of their elders, when it comes to auto racing.

      Several years ago, after a vintage race at Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point), a course that most knowledgeable drivers feel is one of the most demanding; a young competitor of mine came into my pit. We had just finished our main event, in which he started up front with one of his father’s faster cars. I started last, in that I’d had a mechanical problem in the qualifying race. At the start he had taken the lead. It took me quite a few laps, as my car was much less powerful than most of the other cars; but I finally caught up with him. In vintage racing we don’t “lean” or “beat” on each other, because most cars are very valuable. So, I “went to school” on the lad for a few laps; then made my move, and drove away. In the pits, after the race, he looked at my grey hair and asked: “Have you been doing this very long?” I replied: “Over fifty years! I started when I was sixteen”. He said, “Oh! that makes me feel better! I thought maybe you (like many of my age) and just started racing”.

      Don’t count Kenny out!

    • You could put Kenny witha new WOO car, and you would find him in the top ten, if not winning. I have seen him show his heels in a flat head, running against chevy powered sprint cars, he ran one speed even in a vintage car, that was wide open and sideways. If I was 20 at our local tracks, I would know kenny was there, he would be throwing mud in your face. He is a great person, and was a clean driver. I have known kenny from the 1964 season, great guy, and wish him well


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