By Paul Schaefer, NASCAR •
Racing Community Rallies To Support For Texas Wildfire Victims
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When the Kruger family returned recently to what was left of their home, which had been destroyed by a Texas wildfire outbreak, nearly everything was gone.
Walking through the ashes of their three-bedroom home, each family member searched an area where anything of personal value to each might be recovered. A glass coin jar had melted around melted coins. A wedding band was mostly melted away.
One single item remained intact: A Whelen medallion won by Jake Kruger on June 25 for a feature win on Whelen Night at Houston Motorsports Park. That win came on his 18th birthday.
"The Whelen medal was in a display case, so I went to where the case would have been. Everything there had either burned or melted. I found the Whelen medal in the ashes. It was the only thing left in the ruins of our house."
The medal was scorched, but mostly unchanged to become a more significant keepsake.
The Texas wildfire outbreak that began in February has now scorched 3.6 million acres - more than 5,600 square miles - and consumed entire communities.
The properties of the two Lone Star State NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks have not been threatened to date, according to Deb Williams at Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle and John Mandabach at Houston Motorsports Park.
But everyone who attends and participates at the tracks knows of a friend or family member who lost everything.
For immediate needs such as food and clothing, the Krugers and others with similar plights are being assisted by an immediately formed group of racers called Racing Community Wildfire Relief on Facebook. Principals in the effort are Jake Wright Motorsports, Team Teague Racing and Nick Cole Racing. ThunderhillÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s operations director Deb Williams is assisting with publicity.
The group has been collecting donations at the tracks on race nights. The clothing, food and gift cards are being distributed to all known racing families in need. Some drivers and car owners have donated their racing prize money to the effort.
"Our extended family and friends are at those race tracks," said Bill Kruger, Jake's father. "I can't put into words how much we appreciate the help and the concern for us.
"We're going to go racing this weekend so we can enjoy being at the track. We're going to start our lives again and move on to the next chapter in life."
The Krugers were ordered to evacuate from their home in Bastrop, Texas - near Austin - without notice on Sept. 4. They escaped with the clothes on their back, four dogs, one of two cats, a rabbit, and four family cars. Bill and Deb Kruger, their son Jake, and daughter Nikki, 16, lost their home and all possessions.
Spared were the race cars Jake drives because they were elsewhere in race shops. Bill is a former driver and Jake has competed in the Modified and Late Model divisions at the two tracks this year.
Labor Day weekend's Bastrop fires consumed 34,068 acres according to the Texas Forest Service. The agency has also confirmed the loss of 1,554 homes in Bastrop County.
Bill and Deb Kruger went to check on their home on Monday, Sept. 5. It was engulfed in the flames of a fiery destructive path. Their neighborhood was inaccessible until officials allowed re-entry on Monday, Sept. 12.
"We shouldn't have gone to check the house that Monday, and I wouldn't do it again," Bill Kruger said. "There was fire all around us. Seeing our house burn was a real eye opener. More than anything I realized that personal things are a little bitty picture in the big picture of life. Nothing is more important than life. I look at things differently now. What matters is our family and our health."
Home these days is in nearby Taylor, Texas.
"We're staying in my mom's parent's RV parked in my dad's parent's driveway," Jake Kruger said.
Once utility service is restored at the site of their former home, the family plans to move the RV there and live until their home is rebuilt. The Krugers began building their former split level home in 1987, were married in 1988, and moved into the original house in 1989.
"I'm 23 years smarter so we'll rebuild a better house," Bill Kruger said.
The family had insurance coverage that will help in the rebuilding process.
Trying to regain his routine, Jake Kruger has already returned to work at BMF Shocks & Chassis, which is operated by his crew chief John Heil.
A four car, three division team owned by Rick Pollaro includes the Modified Jake Kruger will be driving at Houston Motorsports Park Saturday. The track will also operate on Oct. 1st and 15th. The track website is www.houstonmotorsportspark.com.
Thunderhill's remaining racing schedule includes events on Sept. 23-24. The track website is www.thunderhillraceway.com.
More information on the Texas racing community relief efforts can be found on Facebook by searching: 'Racing Community Wildfire Relief'
Copyright Whelen Engineering Co, Inc 2017