<p class=”post-meta” style=”color: #aaaaaa;”>Posted by: Earl Krause August 19, 2014</p>
What began as an enjoyable day at the Green Flag Driving Experience at Wall Stadium turned into tragedy in the early afternoon on Saturday. Participant Amanda Gambacorto, age 21, was fatally injured when the TQ-Midget she was driving hit the second turn guard rail on the third-mile, banked paved oval.
The Green Flag Driving Experience (GFDE), in which a race fan can pay to drive a “race style” but restricted horsepower TQ or Legend Car around Wall, has been in operation for 13 years. The cars do not race, in fact only running one at a time apart from a pace vehicle, run by an experienced race driver, that controls the speed.
On Monday, August 18, the N.J. State Police Fatal Accident Investigative Unit which conducted the post-accident investigation, released the following information.
“Amanda Gambacorto, 21, of Belford, N.J., was declared dead at Jersey Shore Medial Center (Neptune, N.J.) at 1:26 p.m. (Saturday, August 16). She was driving a 3/4-Midget race car on an asphalt oval track when the crash occurred at approximately 12:30.
“Gambacorto was driving through the Green Flag Driving Experience, and was not a professional or regular race driver. The accident is being investigated by an experienced racing crash investigator in the New Jersey State Police. The initial review indicated that the safety equipment in use was in compliance with regulations. It remains an ongoing case and nothing further will be released at this time.”
Gary Conkling, coordinator of the Green Flag Experience, grieved over the loss.
“My thoughts and prayers, and those of our staff, go out to Amanda and her family,” reflected Conkling.
He noted that prior to Saturday, there had been no fatalities or serious injuries at the Experience over the 13 years. It is important to note that the Green Flag Driving Experience is not under the management of the Wall Stadium racing operation, but run as a totally separate event and business, as a different company, from the Saturday night stock car races.
The New Jersey State Police, which has jurisdiction of auto racing and related auto on-trackevents in the state, was in charge of the investigation.
When it concluded later in the day, Wall Stadium was given permission to run regular racing that night. Many teams had already arrived at the pit area.
However, Wall track managers Cliff and Diane Krause made the decision late Saturday to cancel their evening’s racing program.
“We felt that cancelling (on August 16) was the right thing to do, it was a tragic afternoon and we could see that many of our competitors were as upset as we were,” said Cliff Krause, with his words echoed by his wife Diane. “There were some
that actually didn’t want to race, and we understood their feelings. We’re all part of a racing family here.”
Regular racing is set to resume at Wall Stadium this Saturday evening, August 23. Amanda’s father had worked on pit crews at Wall Stadium over the years. There was unconfirmed word that he had recently purchased a TQ-Midget for his daughter, but Conkling said that he was unaware of that. The car that she was driving on Saturday was one of the Green Flag TQs.
After Saturday night’s races were cancelled, a number of Wall drivers and teams that had already signed into the pit area to compete told Diane Krause to donate their pit fee for the day to the Gambacorto family rather than taking a refund of the money.
Conkling said that Gambacorto had run a 15-lap session that morning without incident.
The crash took place in the opening moments of her second time on the track. She was a student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
While similar in appearance to the full-race TQ-Midgets that compete at Wall and other paved tracks around the Northeast, those TQs in the Green Flag Driving Experience are powered by low-horsepower 600cc motors that provide a speed in the range of only 40 to 45 MPH.
“They are designed for the ‘everyday’ driver, not a ‘race’ driver,” emphasized Gary Conkling.
“Our goal has always been safety, to provide an enjoyable opportunity for the fan to come from the grandstand and drive a car around Wall Stadium. But while our cars give the appearance of a race car, they are built to go slow to let the driver take easy laps. In fact they even have mufflers, with a low decible rating, so that the driver doesn’t have loud noise.”
The Green Flag Experience supplies the participants with a helmet, gloves and racing safety uniform. That gear must be worn before the person takes to the track, and they must be secured with a race-style seat belt.
Prior to going on the track, the drivers are also given detailed instructions on trackside procedures and safety by an experienced
race driver on the Green Flag staff.
“Most-importantly, each car has the latest seat belts; and the driver must wear a regulation crash helmet, gloves and uniform,” stated Conkling. “All of our equipment is up to date. They (participating drivers) are checked by our staff to make sure that they have all of the equipment on and are secure before they go onto the track.
“The cars that we use are inspected for safety and from the mechanical side at the beginning of the year, and during each time they are on the track.
I personally check them. There is also always an ambulance with safety personel on duty, as mandated by New Jersey race track rules.
“When a participant goes out onto the track, they do so one car at a time, with an experienced race driver at the wheel of a pace car ahead of them. That way, we keep the participant running at a low speed at all times. We want them to experience what it’s like to take laps in a race-style car at Wall, but not run fast. That’s not what we’re all about. That’s why what happened (Saturday) is so upsetting to my staff and I.”
There is no doubt that Conkling emphasizes safety in racing. He is a former race driver, going back to North Jersey’s former Pine Brook Speedway; and has guided the race driving career of his son Brett in ARDC Midget and ATQMRA TQMidget competition. Last year, Brett finished third in ATQMRA driver points.
“I want to give my sincere thanks to the New Jersey State Police for their guidance and compassion after the incident on Saturday,” emphasized Gary Conkling. “It was a tragic accident, which affected all of us on the staff and Wall Stadium.
New Jersey is truly a leader in racing safety, and we look forward to working with the State Police group in the future with the Driving Experience. Their input is invaluable, and we will take any recommendation they give us.”
The Green Flag Driving Experience is temporarily on hold, but Conkling indicated it would resume at a later date.