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Hall of Famer Reents recovers after rollover at Viking Speedway

Gary Reents, a Hall of Fame driver at the Viking Speedway, stands next to his Street Stock race car that he suffered one of the worst rollovers of his career in during a feature race at the Viking Speedway on June 9. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Villard's Gary Reents has raced stock cars for more than 45 years, so he has experienced his fair share of fender benders, rollovers, you name it. But no wreck has shaken him quite like the one he experienced at the Viking Speedway almost a month ago.

Reents, who was inducted into the local oval's Hall of Fame in 2014 with his brother, Randy, was racing in the Street Stock feature on June 9. At nearly 70 years old, he still makes it a point to race almost every Saturday at his home track in Alexandria.

"It's just a lot of fun," Reents said. "The guys you race with are great guys, so you spend a lot of time visiting with them and talking about racing. It's the camaraderie and the friends."

Reents feels like he's capable of winning feature races on any given night, and he was in position to do so on June 9. He was racing near the front of the pack in a tight race with Ryan Satter of Dent in the lead and Reents and others jockeying for second behind him.

"I was running third, and it was a close race," Reents said. "Just coming out of the second corner going down the straightaway, somebody tagged me and put me sideways. The track was really tacky, and once I got sideways I think it probably peeled one of the tires off and it started rolling."

Reents remembers the first roll, but not much after that. He can see the ground coming at him before things went black.

"Usually, you feel every bounce and everything is fine," he said. "This time I got knocked out evidently on my first roll, and then I just flopped around for the next couple times it rolled."

The ambulance on hand and the Vikings Speedway safety crew were onto the scene fast. Reents was appreciative of their quick work in getting him out of the car and getting a neck brace on him.

He was taken to the hospital in Alexandria where it was determined he had fractured his C2 vertebrae, the second uppermost of the vertebrae at the top of the spine. Reents was transported to the St. Cloud Hospital to see a neurologist that same night.

"He looked at everything and he said I was very lucky it was a stable fracture," Reents said. "All I have to do is wear a neck brace. They definitely told me a big bunch of stuff I'm not supposed to do. No racing for the rest of the year, no motorcycling. Don't do any risky behavior."

That's been tough on a guy who loves to be on the go. Reents spent the first week or so after the crash as sore as he has ever been due to a wreck. Along with the fracture, the back of his leg and his whole side from his elbow to his hip were bruised.

"I must have gotten tossed around a lot," Reents said. "The car has got a really good roll cage, so that protects you, and good seatbelts. But I don't have the newer containment seat. I've got an older style seat, which ended up kind of bending around some. It just doesn't hold you like the new seats do. There's new safety stuff that if I was going to get the car going again, I would definitely go with the new containment seat."

Reents still had the smile on his face that has endured him to fans at the speedway for the last four decades as he talked about the crash from his home just outside of Villard on July 2. His wife, Jane, has been with him in his racing career every step of the way and says she has learned not to worry about him so much. She was not there the night of this wreck, but their two granddaughters, ages 13 and 14, were in the pits with their grandpa for the first time that day.

"When the granddaughters called, I said he'll be just fine," Jane said. "He's done this before. Just keep in contact with your mom, and I'll head to the hospital and I'll call Kyle (their son). I wasn't expecting a broken neck. I couldn't believe that because he's had so many rollovers and accidents over that many years."

Reents said that when he first started racing in the 1970s, rollovers were more prevalent, but that has changed as body styles have conformed in many of the classes to reduce the risk of those wrecks. Still, he knows it will always be part of the risk whenever anyone gets behind the wheel.

Reents had walked away from every other crash he has been a part of, and he is feeling better every day after this one, too.

"I feel way better all the time," he said. "The first week was really tough. Just a lot of pain, but then the second week was better. Now, I feel so good I'm getting kind of disgusted that I can't really do anything. I feel really good."

Reents expects to be in the neck brace for a couple more weeks. He will start a rehab process after that as he looks to get back to doing the things he loves. Until then, he has been told to take it easy through the rest of the summer.

That means no more racing this season. As for the future, the longtime driver might not get back into his streeter but did not hesitate when asked if he would race again.

"I'll race again, but I probably won't race the Street Stock again," Reents said. "I really enjoy the Street Stock, but I don't know. I've had a couple of bad accidents with the Street Stocks, so I think I'll maybe go to a different class."

JUNE 30 RACES RAINED OUT

The June 30 races at the Viking Speedway were rained out after getting in a few heat races.

Heavy storms rolled through Alexandria at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, which forced officials to call the action for the weekend. The Viking Speedway will race six classes again this Saturday, July 7, when it hosts its annual Kids Night.

The speedway's track leaders through June 23 include some local drivers, with Kensington's Zach Johnson (702 points) and Villard's Brady Gerdes (700) right next to each other atop the Modifieds Division. Jamie Thorstad (580) of Morris leads the Midwest Modifieds. Alexandria's Brett Miller (782) heads the pack in the Street Stock standings, while fellow Alexandria driver Jeff Crouse (805) is atop the Super Stocks. Osakis' Jesse Waldorf (837) leads the Pure Stocks and Ben Wolden (732) of Fergus Falls heads the Limited Late Models.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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