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Baranek: With help from friends, Farren back on track

Renee Farren’s No. 44 is brought back her pit areafter June 7 crash Grundy County Speedway. Farren 16 suffered neck

Renee Farren’s No. 44 is brought back to her pit area after a June 7 crash at Grundy County Speedway. Farren, 16, suffered neck burns and bruises from her safety harness but was otherwise uninjured. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media.

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Updated: July 15, 2013 7:54PM



I’ve got some really good news for you today.

Renee Farren is planning to drive her No. 44 street stock at Grundy County Speedway Friday night.

If you were there on June 7 you’re probably first of all thinking, “Thank God she’s all right.” You’re also probably thinking, “Wow. How’d she get a new car so fast?”

It’s not a new car. It’s the same car. Determination and a lot of friends can make some pretty amazing things happen. But let’s go back to the beginning of this story.

Farren, a 16-year-old Yorkville High School student, started last Friday night with one of the most impressive efforts of her young career.

During a heat race for the fastest half of the street stock field, she ran up front with the best in the division. Eventually, it came down to a drag race for second place between Farren and multi-time racing champion Johnny Senerchia.

Farren, who was running the high groove, ferociously hung on to a half car-length lead and beat the veteran to the finish line to claim second place.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Farren happier than she was as she rolled into the pits and onto the scales.

The feature, however, had a much darker turn of events.

First off, Farren got stuck on the outside and was freight-trained straight to the back. One of the last cars on the inside groove was the No. 213 car of B.J. Grabow.

Grabow, a 13-year veteran, was attempting to pass Farren when something went terribly wrong. Contact coming out of Turn 3 between the two resulted in Farren racing full speed toward the Turn 4 wall.

The impact was ferocious. Farren’s No. 44 bounced high, straight into the air and came down, the front end a smoldering, twisted wreck.

To say that the crowd was gasping is an understatement. Track officials and safety crew members made a beeline for the scene. From my vantage point between Turns 1 and 2 … quite frankly, I really didn’t want to look.

Inside the car, Farren was dazed, but amazingly was able to unstrap and pull herself out the driver’s door window, from where she was assisted from the car. She spent the better part of 15 minutes in an ambulance, being checked on and treated for burns and bruises on her neck from the restraints.

When Farren stepped out of the ambulance, her demeanor in the pits was nothing short of remarkable. There was no crying, no anger, no finger-pointing. She showed more maturity than many drivers twice her age.

“Going in on the high side I felt the hit and I saw myself heading toward the wall,” she said. “I just braced myself for the hit because it was going to be hard.”

Immediately after the crash, Grabow drove his car around the track and stopped by Farren’s car.

“He apologized,” Farren said. “He asked if I was OK, and he said he was sorry.”

Grabow still looked a little shaken when I asked him about it later. He didn’t try to dodge the blame for what happened.

“I rolled through the corner a little bit better than she did,” he said. “I got into her left rear a little bit there, and she counter-steered. The car went straight to the wall.

“Renee is a wonderful girl. I hate like hell that this has happened. She’s a top 10 car. I’ve cost her a race car. Half the crowd thinks I did that on purpose. But me and Renee are pretty good friends.”

Renee has a lot of friends at Grundy, including area race car driver and owner Rita Fields, who offered to let Farren use one of her street stock cars until her own was either repaired or replaced.

Some of her other friends are former street stock champion Logan Love, his crew chief Matt Olson, veteran late-model and Mid-American driver Josh Nelms, Mid-Am competitor John McMahon and his pit crew and former Grundy street stock competitor Billy Rud.

Between getting the car loaded at the track and finding a front stub and other parts and putting them back together, all were part of a several-day effort that resulted in a new front end and hopefully a race-ready No. 44 for Friday.

“When Renee came up to me Friday night and her father (Sean) asked if I could get the car back together I said, ‘Come hell or high water, we’ll get the car back together,’ ” Olson said.

“I want to see her back on that track. She’s done very well this year.”

Farren, meanwhile, is feeling fine. The burns and bruises are fading. She said the Hutchens device she was wearing did an excellent job of keeping her from being seriously injured.

She also said that being in the garage all week with her father, her grandfather, Jim Gates, and all who helped put together what looked to be a totally destroyed race car has whetted her appetite even more to get back out on the track.

And fear?

“No, none at all,” Farren said. “This was something that you hope doesn’t happen, but it does. It was a racing incident that could have gone differently if we’d both used our heads a little bit more. We’ve just got to move on and take it with a grain of salt.”



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