PEORIA — When driving force Joe Wagner passed away overdue inside the spring of 2018, Peoria’s racing network became dealt a crushing hand.
The 38-year-old became a veteran of the local racing circuit, fairly seemed among his friends and a member of certainly one of Peoria’s most storied racing families.
Yet born from that loss become a network united. Peoria Speedway rallied at the back of Joe’s twin brother, Jason Wagner, additionally a neighborhood driver, and announced plans for a night of racing dedicated to Joe.
The event turned into a massive achievement, leading to a second Joe Wagner Memorial held in advance this month.
And which motive force gained the main occasion on both of these memorial nights? It was Jason, who stated the victories represented cathartic moments in an adventure of healing.
“I nonetheless don’t agree with it,” says Wagner.
THE WAGNER FAMILY
Joe and Jason’s father, Bill Wagner, launched his profession at Spoon River Speedway inside the Seventies. Two a long time later, the elder Wagner claimed song championships at the Lewistown bullring, topping the factors inside the re-modified elegance in 1994 and 1995.
As his father turned into chasing the one’s championships, Jason becomes getting commenced in cross-kart racing. Before lengthy, Jason decided to interchange to inventory motors and made his debut in Spoon River’s e-changed class in 2001.
The pass paid off, as Jason gained the Rookie of the Year award for his elegance that season.
Joe Wagner, meanwhile, grew up playing greater traditional sports, including soccer and basketball. His racing career didn’t begin till 2003 when he became hooked after turning a few laps in Jason’s vehicle. For the following 15 years, the brothers populated entry lists throughout the place, though not usually within the same elegance. Jason competed in a modified till 2013, while he made the transfer to a late version as Joe persisted to pilot a changed.
As the duo competed, they loved success among crowded and talented fields at Peoria Speedway — evidenced in part by way of the six podium finishes Jason has accrued on the tune on the grounds that 2017. The brothers, although in unique training, endured competing on the local circuit proper up till Joe’s passing.
On April 28, 2018, within per week of his deliberate wedding ceremony, the Peoria racing community woke up to the information that Joe had exceeded away in his sleep the previous night time. The loss despatched reeling the many that populate Peoria Speedway’s pit location each week.
“Joe and I have been real suitable pals,” says Robert Simpson, an established driver, and a buddy of Wagner who recalled lengthy summer season nights spent in a hot bath speaking of pools and cookouts.
“We had turned out to be quite near in an ultimate couple of years earlier than this happened… And we’re now not going to cease from here. We’re going to maintain to have stuff for him and do stuff for him, and all of us leave out him a ton.
“It positive is a monotonous location around here without him.”
Said Jason: “Nobody become expecting it. It changed into every week earlier than his wedding ceremony, so all and sundry become kind of in surprise over that.”
BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL
Though nevertheless mourning, Jason became quick to step lower back at the back of the wheel. It becomes healing, he stated, a manner to clear his mind amid a scenario not possible to understand. Just every week after Joe’s demise, Jason returned to the music to complete 15th at Farmer City Speedway. He fast returned to form and scored a win at Peoria Speedway on May 26.
Less than 3 weeks later, Jason scored perhaps the most important win of his career on the inaugural Joe Wagner Memorial.
With tributes galore to Joe Wagner — the handbag presented to the 21-lap changed function winner was $1,021 in honor of the 21J that decorated the side of Joe’s vehicle — Jason venerated his brother by driving the car that his brother had been set to compete in all through the 2018 season.
“I became driving (Joe)’s vehicle because he turned into close to having it performed,” Jason stated. “My brother, Donald Tovrea, my brother-in-law, my sister Michelle, Jenny Clark and Jerome Clark had been all kinda component-proprietors of that vehicle.
“They asked me to force it, and we went out and received it.”
THE WAGNER MEMORIAL
A kind of creative fundraising efforts highlighted the maximum recent Joe Wagner Memorial, with Peoria Speedway scorer Shelley Barnes gambling an essential role in raising money for the occasion.
“Jason messaged me the Tuesday prior to the race and wanted to realize how we should improve a further $six hundred,” stated Barnes in connection with the 2019 event. The speedway had already published a handbag of $1,500 to the changed feature winner, and Wagner desired to raise that overall to $2, a hundred in honor of his brother’s range.
Barnes determined to promote every lap of the modified race, a concept that proved so successful it spread to the four different instructions as properly.
“The race became going to be 40 laps, and I divided into how plenty it’d fee in step with a lap to raise $600. That’s how I came up with $15, and it went over so well with the modifieds that we sold out all 40 laps within hours. I decided to do it with each additional magnificence after that, and we absolutely offered out of all five instructions inside days.”
Additional backing became observed from neighborhood fanatics, sponsors and drivers who posted money to drivers who earned various rewards at some point of the race.
“We had Midwest Tech donate $250 to the quickest changed qualifier, we had a 9-yr-old boy named Cooper Wagner donate $50 of his personal cash to the modified driving force who drove the furthest to come back to the race that night,” Barnes stated. “Nolan Kaufman donated $25 to the modified driver who changed into the tough charger (received the most positions for the duration of the race), after which Ricky Rapp donated an extra $100 for the hornet race.”
Revenue for Joe’s sons — Conner, Reed, and Quinn — become generated thru auctions for the door and region panels from the auto Jason drove within the memorial race, which became wrapped to resemble the scheme that Joe drove. Additional money for the circle of relatives changed into raised thru a 50/50 raffle, from which the speedway netted a profit of $seven-hundred to donate toward the university trust fund for Joe’s sons.
Shelley’s husband Chuck Barnes, who has served as Jason’s automobile owner due to the fact last season, credit the circle of relatives-like bond in the Peoria racing community.
“Racers will hate you nowadays and love you the next day,” Chuck stated. “When some thing horrific happens to one of us, even the humans that didn’t such as you these days are going to tug together and do what they are able to do for you.
“Joe and Jason are both properly-preferred at some stage in the racing (network); they’re both outstanding clean-going guys. It was difficult on anybody, you already know … He had more youthful children and an older person who type of understood what changed into happening. Plus he becomes a week far away from his wedding ceremony. … It becomes difficult for everybody.”
Fellow drivers also hold the Wagner memorial in high regard, both out of appreciating for Joe and in pursuit of triumphing on one of the Peoria Speedway’s biggest tiers. Though Jason gained each of the UMP Modified characteristic activities contested thus far, winners in different classes haven’t overlooked what the event represents.
“We got here into the weekend certainly trying that huge take a look at and to win for Joe,” stated Michael Mennel, a winner in the 2019 Crate Modified characteristic. “We ran aspect-with the aid of-aspect with him for decades. It was a difficult-fought struggle. … It all worked out for us in the long run, though.”
“Joe changed into a sincerely top pal of mine and he changed into definite sort of family,” said Todd Bennett, 2019′s UMP Late Model feature winner. “It becomes outstanding to do a repeat.”
Austin Simpson, Robert Simpson’s son, played a key role within the 2019 Joe Wagner Memorial both on and rancid the music. In addition to donating the checks to the song and supporting with wrapping Jason’s car, Simpson emerged positively in the Street Stock magnificence.
“To win on Joe Wagner night was truly unique to me,” Simpson said. “The closing memorial race I won turned into for Derek Cook Jr., and that changed into quite cool, too… It’s pretty sweet to have a take a look at in the wallet that has Joe’s name on it; he’s, in reality, a guy that all of us omit very an awful lot.”
Jason now includes the torch for one of the region’s greatest racing households, his successes on a degree dedicated to his brother are matched as tons for a screenplay as they’re for a dirt bullring.
Reflecting again on the instant, Jason can’t quite consider what enabled him to interrupt thru into victory lane on those summer nights.
“I don’t realize if it turned into help from above or anything,” Jason said. “It simply seems to be our fortunate night, whether we’ve got help driving it or what the situation is.”
For a community invested in assisting its very own get over a terrific tragedy, the idea that any such triumph became possible at all become possibly the precise final results. Jason has given lower back to a network that has caught with him from the very start. Through it all, he and the racing network have given each different a reason to consider.