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Larry Ott: Reap makes racing comeback at age 75

Since 1962, Joe “Skip” Reap Sr. of Derby has experienced local motorsports from many different roles and has enjoyed a great career.

Reap would not trade all his years in racing for anything. Anything that is, except eight devastating seconds in 2013 that almost cost him his life. It’s a miracle they didn’t.

Now 75, Reap had his career as well as his life almost come to an end on June 22, 2013, on the one-eighth mile strip at Empire Dragway in Leicester.

“We put everything together on my 1933 Willys for the drag races that day at Empire,” Reap said. “I was running in a Gasser Racing Series event. There were some things I should have changed on that car but I didn’t. I had a solid linkage for the throttle. It had a cable on it. I was on a fast pass, probably about 150 miles per hour at the finish line and then I went to let off the throttle to slow down not realizing that the cable had snapped and hung the throttle wide open. I hit the engine kill switch but due to a situation with the alternator, the engine wouldn’t shut off.

“By the time I realized what was going on I knew I was in trouble − big trouble. I tried to put the car into the guardrail to slow it down but I broke a right front wheel off and it all happened in about eight seconds. I went off the end of the track. That’s all I can remember.”

The worse was to come.

“I went into a ditch head-on and the car flipped into a galvanized chain link fence. One of the fence posts went through the roof of my car and glanced off the left side of my helmet. From there the post went through my scapula and sliced down through my body. When the car rolled a second time it pulled the post out.

“Nobody there thought I was going to live. Mercy Flight took me to Strong Memorial in Rochester and I spent the next 4½ weeks in intensive care. I was in the hospital for the next nearly three months.”

Many thought they would never see Reap on the race track again. They were wrong.

“After the hospital stay I figured it was time to get out of race driving but my wife Bev asked me to reconsider,” Reap said. “I guess I am back because I had to prove to myself that I could still do it.

“We got that car back together and I drove in my first race since that accident at Empire this year in July and after that have raced more events at Lancaster. It’s been fine. At the recent Sunday Nostalgia Weekend at Lancaster I won two rounds on Friday, another two on Saturday and lost in the first round on Sunday.”

While the accident will always be a major part of Reap’s career it was preceded by great times in the sport.

“I started at the old Dunkirk Airport strip in 1962 in a 1955 Olds J-Stock car,” Reap said. “I then went to Niagara Dragstrip in an Austin Healey L-Stock.”

Over the years, Reap would produce wins, including a stretch of five straight at Lancaster in the Austin. Then his career took an interesting turn, actually four turns of a stock car oval.

“I eventually got involved with the “Ghetto Gang” that involved Ron “Pops” Wylie, Don Wylie Sr., Don Wylie Jr., Rick Wylie and Billy Richeal. I was a crew member for “Pops” so I left drag racing for the stock cars. Let’s say I went to the other side. We raced at Holland, Perry and North Collins. Those were fun days.

“Sometime in the early 1970s, I went to a party one night and got to know the Perry co-promoter at the time, the late Ed Serwacki. At the party I got introduced to a Holland official, I think it was the late Clark Rice, and he said they were looking for a tech official and that’s how I got my start tech officiating.”

In the years that followed, Reap would also work as a tech official at Holland, Lancaster, Cayuga and the Race of Champions events at Pocono, Flemington, N.J. and Oswego. Tragedy hit Reap in July of 1996.

“My son, Joe Reap Jr., was racing Go-Karts on a national level and doing well,” Reap Sr. said. “In 1996, I built my son a Camaro drag car and we were all set to debut it the next weekend. It never happened. A few days before the debut my son lost his life in a highway accident. He was 26. I took over the car and raced it mostly at Empire and Lancaster and it turned out to be a great car. I won races with it.”

Reap would eventually sell the car and move on to other vehicles. He says he owes so much to his wife, Bev, along with friends Brian and Lisa Kresman, D.J. Raiser, Joe Urbino, Don Vail Sr., John Montgomery and Norm Oleksiak.

“You know after the accident I had to start my career all over again and I guess it’s going fine although I’m getting my feet wet all over again,” Reap said. “With everything that’s happened before and after the accident I’ve had a good ride in racing and since I’m 75 now, I’ll keep going although I don’t know how much longer.”

Just the fact that Reap Sr., has been given the chance to grow older ever since that fateful day in 2013 is a miracle all its own.

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