I don't usually write two columns in one issue, but sometimes things happen that change the plan, and this is one of those times. Earlier today, my cell phone rang and a friend on the other end told me that John was dead. I nearly dropped the phone in shock.
The "John" he was talking about was well-known New Jersey Modified driver John Blewett III. John died on the track in an accident that goes beyond tragic, not only because of its freak nature, but also because it involved his younger brother, Jimmy.
Jimmy, seven years younger than John, really looked up to his older brother. On any given week you could find their cars parked side by side at Wall Township Speedway, where they competed in the track's Modified division (John was the defending track champion). Their relationship makes the whole situation downright terrible.
Over the years, I talked with John (pictured above) on many occasions. Blewett was a racer's racer, a throwback guy from a hardworking family with an aggressive style on the track and a caring side off the track. From a writer's perspective, he was a great interview because he'd tell it like it is. He was honest, straightforward, and approachable. From a racer's perspective, he was the type of guy you could get advice from, borrow tools from, or just BS with.
As his death began to sink in, I started to think about writing something in the magazine about John, something with value, something beyond the standard "10 career victories, 42 Top 5 finishes, and 76 Top 10 finishes on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour" obituary.
John Blewett III races with fellow modified hot shoe Tim Arre (yellow car) at their home t
I think I came up with it, but bear with me because you have to understand a little bit about the accident. John and Jimmy were battling for the lead in the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson International Speedway, a 51/48-mile, high-banked asphalt oval located about an hour and a half south of Boston. They had been engaged in a fierce battle for almost 20 laps, then a caution flag flew. On the restart at Lap 107, Jimmy got sideways coming to the green, the two crisscrossed down the front straight, and John took the low groove into Turn 1. As the pair entered the corner, wheels touched and somehow Jimmy's car ended up on top of John's. Part of Jimmy's bumper came loose and ended up in John's driver's compartment. John couldn't survive the resulting head injury and passed away later that night.
It was by all accounts a freak accident, one that would have been very hard to predict. After all, the Blewetts did it right: well-built cars, good safety equipment, and so on. Plus, Modifieds, with their low center of gravity, aren't exactly known for getting airborne like Jimmy's did. But the fact of the matter is it did happen, and a valued member of the racing community has been lost.
Was it preventable? Maybe, who knows, but racers in the Mod ranks are already looking at ways to make the open cockpit of the car a safer place-such as adding additional left-side rollbars and sheeting the area in-between with steel. But it took John's death to kick-start the process.
John Blewett's passing needs to be a wake-up call. As a community, let's use this tragedy as a call to action. We need to take a proactive approach to making our cars, tracks, and equipment even safer. Before you turn to another page in this magazine, go to your race car. Ask yourself, Can I make my windshield more impact resistant? Is the firewall on my car properly sealed so that fire can't get in the cockpit? Is my rollcage safe? Do I wear a head-and-neck restraint?
Race car builders, sanctions, and manufacturers need to ask questions such as, "Is there a better way to protect our drivers from projectiles?" Racing is, obviously, a dangerous sport, and we'll never completely eliminate the risk factor. But if we can become more proactive in the safety aspects of our race cars and we save just one life, isn't that worth it?
Godspeed, John. You'll be missed.