Dave Wollaber and his Christiano Racing team overcame a week of major adversity that started with a violent accident June 17 at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway that required major rebuilding of not only their No. 1 TQ Midget but also their spirits, leaving Wollaber contemplating whether it was time to retire from behind the wheel.
But with determined perseverance that included the team's hard work, dedication and a bit of soul searching on Wollaber's part, the team rebuilt and came to Holland Motorsport Complex this past Saturday and concluded their week of racing drama with a victory in the night's 20-lap NYPA TQ Midget Racing Series main event. The triumph was good medicine for the team.
Following the victory Saturday, the Christiano team pits were filled with faces that expressed happiness, fatigue, relief and, most of all, pride. It was a big moment for the whole team, including owner Vince Christiano Sr.
"I am proud," Christiano said. "I think that all the effort and time that we put in paid off. You don't get nothing for nothing. You got to work your butt off and then it usually pays off."
Wollaber has been driving TQ Midgets for 18 years and appreciates the Christiano team for all they have done to enhance his career, which has included many wins and championships.
When Wollaber had the violent accident at Lancaster it marked the first time in his long TQ career that he had ever flipped over in a race car.
"It was a heat race last weekend at Lancaster," Wollaber said. "We had a slow car start on the pole and I think he usually starts in the back. I went to the high side in turn one and was on the outside, clear and the No. 88 (Kyle Hutchinson) and Pew (Jamie Pew) got together out of turn two and it sent them right into me and it was like a bomb went off. I went straight up in the air. I don't remember a whole lot but there was some hard hits up on the wall. The car nosedived and took a chunk out of the track. The car was pretty much destroyed. But it's a much different story this week."
The accident set off an immediate weeklong effort to get the car repaired and reset for competition.
"Last week was Father's Day," Wollaber said. "Vinnie Sr., he's going to be 85 this year and he had it stripped down. I took a half day off work on Monday and we got it right down to the frame. It was long days but everybody pitched in, including Vinnie Jr., "Little" Vinnie (Vince Christiano III), my father-in-law came right from work and Dennis (Haslam) was there every day. It was just a lot of hours."
In Saturday's affair at Holland, Wollaber started the 20-lap contest from the fourth position but rocketed to the lead on the first lap and never looked back, holding Hutchinson at bay to win by five car lengths. The field even had to deal with light rain drops that fell during the final five laps of the race.
"I kept saying it's like putting on an old shoe with that car," Wollaber said. "But we've still got some front axle issues. It wasn't enough that we could fix today. We had to get it out on the track. We knew it was a little bit different. We're still a little bit off but it's amazing that we could come out and be that fast and this close with a car that was in bad shape just seven days ago."
While the mechanical repairs were being made by the team throughout last week, Wollaber was also working on the mental side of his race driving game in which the veteran driver wrestled with the idea of retirement.
"The last time I had something big like this was I think about 10 years ago," Wollaber said. "The throttle stuck at Perry (Wyoming County International Speedway). It wasn't quite as bad as this past week. This wreck last week at Lancaster was the first time I've ever flipped. Honestly, it scared the crap out of me. I had bruises and my shoulders are still sore. This is my 18th year and the first time I was on my lid. I was debating because I got three young kids and a wife and all this and I thought well, I don't really need this.
"I don't want to get hurt. But it's in my blood. I'm talking to these guys and they're just ignoring me when I was talking about being done. They're like, oh we'll get the car back together. It was good that we got this race in tonight because it's been kind of on my mind. I got it out of the way now.
"When I went out there tonight the accident wasn't on my mind. I told my father-in-law and I tell my wife all the time and I tell Vinnie once in a while that if you're out there and you're thinking about bad stuff you're in trouble. You got to shut everything out and use your reactions while you're out there. You cannot be thinking about what if my right front tire blows out or what if someone gets into me because then you're 90 percent good at best and you might as well park it. Winning heals all things. My career will continue."
In other Holland racing Saturday, Patrick Emerling emerged victorious over a 13-car NASCAR Pro Modified field in the 30-lapper.
"I think in my opinion that all the best Sportsman drivers are all here at Holland," Emerling said. "Compared to anywhere else. You got the Catalano family and other guys in the Sportsman class running here and some are Modified drivers too. It's real competitive here. That's what makes it fun. There's not many cars here but there's good cars."