In what one observer called a "freak accident," Tom Druar of Akron, the two-time and defending Lancaster National Speedway champion, died early Sunday after a two-car crash Saturday evening in the speedway's Modified 40-lap feature event.
Druar, 38, was entering the third turn on lap 10 shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday, racing for the lead with Bill Carey of Sloan, when the crash occurred. The drivers' cars touched wheels and spun simultaneously backwards into the wall, witnesses said.
Druar's car hit the driver's side first. Uninjured, Carey was able to walk away from his car.
Crews using emergency cutting tools needed several minutes to free Druar from the wreck. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center's trauma unit, but despite efforts to save him, he was pronounced dead at 12:25 a.m.
The Erie County medical examiner's office listed the cause of death as multiple injuries.
"Both drivers were charging hard for the lead . . .," Pete Trautman, the track's racing director said Sunday. "There was no rough riding involved. It was a racing accident and not Carey's fault."
"It was definitely a freak accident," said Phil Czarnecki, the speedway's photographer. "I have seen this type of accident numerous times over the years, but with no fatal results whatsoever."
Both cars hit the wall "in identical fashion and at the same time," he said. The only difference was "Druar may have hit a little more on the driver's side."
Modifieds, among the fastest cars in competition at Lancaster, average more than 100 mph.
Druar, known throughout the Northeast as a top Modified competitor, traveled to many tracks during his career, once earning the nickname "the traveling man."
He scored several feature victories at Lancaster, as well as at other tracks, including Spencer Speedway near Rochester.
More than once, Lancaster fans voted Druar the most popular driver in the Modified ranks.
As defending champion, Druar had a mixed season, although he had won one race. Two weeks ago, the 17-year racing veteran was in another crash. He was taken to Erie County Medical Center for observation, then released.
Survivors include his wife, the former Mickey Grandits; a daughter, Ashley, and a son, Matthew; two brothers, William Jr. and Robert; three sisters, Gail Storace, Margaret Druar and Deborah Jankowiak; his father, William, and mother, Margaret.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, 903 Sweet Home Road, Amherst. Burial will be in the Fillmore Cemetery, Clarence Center.