BRAINERD, MN —- A Trans Am racecar driver is dead after crashing head-on with a concrete wall at high speed Sunday afternoon at Brainerd International Raceway.
Brainerd International Raceway
5523 Birchdale Road
Brainerd, MN 56401
The driver was identified by track officials as Mel Shaw, 70, of New Jersey. Several online sources describe Shaw as a veteran of the racing industry who began racing nearly 50 years ago.
The crash occurred on Turn 3 of the 2.5-mile Competition Road Course during a Sports Car Club of America race. The smaller 12-lap race took place between two Trans Am Series events as part of the PleasureLand RV Show and Go at the racetrack.
The turn at which Shaw's car lost control is at the end of the fastest straight-away on the track, Copham said, where vehicles reach speeds of 150 mph. Copham said in addition to its high-speed entry, the turn is fairly tight.
Witnesses to the crash described Shaw's car as moving noticeably fast for the conditions. They said it sounded as though the throttle on the vehicle was revving and accelerating instead of slowing down for the curve.
"We heard the cars coming and it was very obvious that this particular car was not slowing down soon enough," said Larry Gau, race spectator from Dayton. "He was downshifting, trying to slow down, but as soon as he came back on the gears the car would accelerate and the throttle would advance again. He basically went straight off the end of the track with the throttle accelerating, and went almost straight into the wall."
Gau said he'd attended many racing events, but had never witnessed a crash like Sunday's firsthand.
"It was one of those accidents that made you sick to your stomach," Gau said. "It was very obvious he was going to be injured pretty badly."
Steve Hindman of Baxter was also among the dozen or so spectators watching the race at Turn 3.
"Before you know it, he was head-on into the fence," Hindman said. "It just, it happened so fast. I kept thinking he was going to make the curve, but his car kept revving up."
Hindman said he thought the driver was traveling at more than 100 mph when he struck the concrete barrier. He wondered whether a sandy area or a tire barrier, known as "tire pillows," could have lessened the impact of the crash.
"That's my opinion, and everybody has an opinion," Hindman said.
BIR owner Jed Copham, who spoke with the Dispatch following his fourth place finish in the Ryan Companies Independence Day Classic, described the mood at the track as somber.
"He (Shaw) was a heck of a competitor. He was a tough guy," Copham said. "What a great guy, and what a loss to the racing community."
Copham said a lot of cars have gone off the road at Turn 3, although he'd never seen a hit like Shaw's. He said tire pillows can soften the blow of a crash, but it's still a blow.
"As a racer, we know the risks," Copham said. "We know every time we get in that racecar that things can go wrong and you just learn to live with those. I guess if I go out the same way, then I want to know I went out on top and went out happy. That's all you can say. He was doing what he loved. When a person can go out doing what they loved, I don't think there's a better way to go."
Jim Llewellyn, public relations manager for the Sports Car Club of America, became emotional in response to the fatal crash upon learning the identity of the driver.
"He was a nice guy," Llewellyn said. "We're a club, and we do everything to protect our loved ones. When something doesn't go right, it's not great. It's not great."
Gary Curtis is the owner of the BIR Performance Driving School and has raced in Sports Club Car of America events. Curtis knew Shaw and said the racing community is close-knit.
"I was the one who had to tell his wife (Deb Shaw)," Curtis said. "People from all over the country, we all know each other and we've all raced each other. It's like any other sport, all the golfers know each other, all the baseball players know each other. This is a pro sport like any other sport I should say, so it's a very close community."
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office responded to the fatal crash Sunday afternoon, and confirmed Shaw's body was transported to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office for autopsy.
This is the first fatality on the track in Copham's 12 years as owner of BIR, although four previous fatalities have occurred. A motorcycle racer, Tyson Berger, 26, Crosslake, died in a crash at what was then called the Colonel's Brainerd International Raceway on Sept. 15, 2001, during the season finale for Central Roadracing Association.
The association rented the track several times in the summer.
Berger died after being hit by another motorcycle. The coroner's office reported he suffered multiple skull fractures and died at the scene.
In 1983, two motorcycle racers—Mark Jones, 24, of Merriam, Kan., and Hugh Humble, 27, of Houston—died on the front straight-away at the track during an American Motorcyclist Association national event early in September.
A raceway spokesman said Jones was leaving the track for a pit area after a practice session when he was struck from behind by Humble, who was traveling about 140 mph. Both men were taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Brainerd, where Jones died around an hour later and Humble about two hours later, the spokesman said.
Pro Stock racer John Hagen, 46, died Aug. 19, 1983, at BIR. Hagen died while racing a Dodge Omni at Brainerd. The incident helped bring safety upgrades to the track. Hagen's car rolled more than 20 times.
Veteran driver hits wall at Brainerd Raceway and is killed
Veteran driver's car appeared to rev up when he needed to downshift at Brainerd track.
By Paul Walsh Star Tribune
July 4, 2017 — 12:12am
Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch Deb Gilmore is embraced after the death of her husband, Mel Shaw, a Trans Am driver who died Sunday in a crash at Brainerd International Raceway. This is the first fatality of a racer on the track in 16 years.
A veteran race car driver hit a concrete wall during a competition at Brainerd International Raceway and was killed, authorities said.
The crash occurred Sunday afternoon at a turn on the 2½-mile course during a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) race, according to the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office.
Members of the race car driver community were mourning the death of Mel Shaw, 70, of Voorhees, N.J., during a 12-lap race. The Sheriff’s Office said Shaw was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The staff and racing community at Brainerd International Raceway are deeply sorry for the loss of a passionate and longtime racer, Mel Shaw,” said a statement released by raceway owners Jed and Kristi Copham. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to Mel’s family, his racing team and the entire Trans Am Series and SCCA organizations.”
A statement from the Trans Am Series noted that Shaw was “one of the longest tenured members of the series, making his debut in 2011 and running a full effort each following season. Known throughout the paddock for his passion for the sport and support of others, Mel was a fixture of the Trans Am community and a part of what is called the Trans Am family.”
Shaw “loved racing and was always eager to compete and share that love with others,” said John Clagett, president of the Trans Am Race Co.
Shaw had been involved in racing for roughly a half-century as a driver and team owner, according to an online biography on the website of his property acquisition business, Bay Commercial Group. Racing took him to the Midwest, Florida and Canada.
His wife and business partner, Deb Gilmore, was at the raceway and was consoled by others trackside soon after the crash.
Spectator Larry Gau, of Dayton, told the Brainerd Dispatch that “it was very obvious that this particular car was not slowing down enough. He was downshifting, trying to slow down. … He basically went straight off the end of the track with the throttle accelerating and went almost straight into the wall.”
Shaw was moving more than 100 miles per hour as “his car kept revving up,” another spectator, Steve Hindman, of nearby Baxter, told the Dispatch.
This is the first fatality at the track since September 2001, when motorcyclist Tyson Berger, 26, of Crosslake, Minn., was hit by a competitor.
Mel Shaw, a 70 year-old from Voorhees, New Jersey, died on Sunday after a heavy crash into a concrete barrier at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota.
Competing in the SCCA GT-2 race, Shaw’s Chevrolet Camaro still had its throttle open as it reached the end of the longest straight on the 2.5-mile course.
According to eyewitnesses, its driver appeared to make no attempt to make Turn 3 and the throttle was still wide open when the car plowed off the track and into a barrier.
Shaw was pronounced dead at the scene.
One eyewitness, Larry Gau, was quoted in the Brainerd Dispatch, saying: "We heard the cars coming and it was very obvious that this particular car was not slowing down soon enough. He was downshifting, trying to slow down, but as soon as he came back on the gears the car would accelerate and the throttle would advance again.
“He basically went straight off the end of the track with the throttle accelerating, and went almost straight into the wall.
"It was one of those accidents that made you sick to your stomach. It was very obvious he was going to be injured pretty badly."
Shaw’s body was transported to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office in St. Paul for an autopsy. The incident is under investigation by the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department.
“The staff and racing community at Brainerd International Raceway are deeply sorry for the loss of a passionate and longtime racer, Mel Shaw,” said BIR owners Jed and Kristi Copham. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to Mel’s family, his racing team and the entire Trans Am Series and SCCA organizations.”
Road racing legend Tommy Kendall tweeted: "I am stunned & saddened to learn that my former TA2 teammate, Mel Shaw was killed yesterday at BIR. My heart goes out to his wife, Debbie.
"I recall fondly talking racing & real estate w/Mel & hearing about how he & Debbie were having time of their lives touring US in their coach."
The moral of the story: you can cheat death many times, but he will eventually catch up with you. There is no racing for old men.