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Driver faces long recovery after crash at Brainerd International Raceway

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Drag racer Don Kritzky of Cottage Grove, Minn., is still coming to grips with the injuries he suffered when his car rolled over and caught fire at Brainerd International Raceway on Aug 18, 2014. He and his wife face mounting medical bills and loss of income while Kritzky is off work. (William Loeffler/South Washington County Bulletin)2 / 2

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Don Kritzky will have to get used to lying still.

This is not an easy thing for a man with a life-long love of high speeds. Kritzky, 57, has been drag racing in one form or another since he was a student at Park High School. He, his wife Linda, and son Mike, who also races, are familiar faces on the Midwestern drag racing circuit.

The trophies and championship rings on display at his Cottage Grove home attest to his skill.

On Sunday, Kritzky was injured during a side-by-side drag race at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. He was doing 175 mph when he swerved to avoid colliding with his opponent’s car, which crashed first. The maneuver sent Kritzky’s car careening across both lanes. It caromed off the wall, rolled and caught fire.

The crash broke his pelvis in two places as well as his right hip and leg. He expects to be laid up for eight weeks.

“My whole right side is broken,” Kritzky said.

The same could be said for his heart. The crash totaled his prized dragster, a sleek blue machine with the Kritzky name emblazoned on one side. The wreckage is stored in a trailer in the driveway.

Linda Kritzky figures they’ve spent at least  $75,000 on the car.

“It would be a financial strain to rebuild the car,” she said.

Of more immediate concern are their medical bills. And Don Kritzky doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return to his job at in Hastings. He’s grateful to be alive, but he has bills to pay.

“It’s killing me that I’m going to be out for a while,” he said. ”I have no income.”

The Lucas Oil National Hot Rod Association Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway is one of drag racing’s premier events.

“Its like the Super Bowl for us,” Kritzky said. He was set to race against his son Mike for the first time.

The National Hot Rod Association posted a video of the double crash. Seconds into the race,  the car driven by Monte Green of Haxlun, Colo., began to fishtail. Kritzky said he knew he had to make a split second decision.

“He was out in front of me in the other lane and he started losing control of his car,” Kritzky said. “I knew at that time I had to make a move.”

He said he knew that he’d lost traction and was “on for a ride,” meaning he was essentially a passenger in his own car.

The impact of hitting the wall may have knocked him unconscious for a few seconds, he said. The next thing he knew, his car was burning.

“I started yelling, ‘I’m on fire, I’m on fire!’ ” he said.

Within seconds, the “Safety Safari,” the first responders of the National Hot Rod Association, scrambled onto the track and extinguished the fire. Rescue personnel used the jaws of life to cut him out of his roll cage.

“I turned around and saw the fireball,” Linda Kritzky said. “I was in total panic. I thought he was dead.”

Her husband, who was conscious and alert after the crash, was airlifted to North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis. He spent two nights there and came back home Tuesday. Green was treated for minor injuries.

Shorty Shannon, who co-owns American Motorsports Bar and Grill with wife Cheri, was also racing at Brainerd last weekend. He said he was in the pit near the track but didn’t see the accident.

“It’s a shame because it wasn’t his fault,” said Shannon, who said the other guy should have “got out of the gas” when he began to lose control of his car.  

The Shannons sponsored Kritzky by paying for his 15-layer fireproof suit. It was the same one he was wearing when he crashed. The suit cost $1,200, but it obviously was money well-spent, Shannon said.

“I was pretty startled,” he said. “I was mainly concerned as a friend.”

In a statement, Brainerd International Raceway owners Jed and Kristi Copham said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Don and his family, and we wish him a speedy recovery. It was an unfortunate accident and we all feel horrible for both drivers.”

If there’s an upside to the disaster, it’s the support from friends, family and the racing community, Don Kritzky said.

Mike Kritzky, who lives in St. Paul Park, has set up an online fund for his father.

Those interested in donating can visit

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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