The Tragedies At Rafaela: Petrich, Lafeudo, Noya, and Miller

The Autodromo Ciudad De Rafaela, also known as the Autodromo Juan Bascolo, sits just outside the city of Rafaela, northeastern Argentina. It is a bizarre track, being a back-and-forth oval with lightly banked corners and several chicanes, along with a road course for junior series that cuts off half the oval. It is a massive 2.895 mile track, making it even longer than Talladega.

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Credit to Wikipedia

It was built as a massive dirt track in 1952, was paved in 1966, and hosted the USAC Champ Cars in 1971, though it’s been used almost exclusively for national events since. The Turismo Carretera usually runs three chicanes, one towards the end of the front chute, one on the back chute, and a third in turn three (the north turn), though there is a fourth in turn one (the south turn) that is infrequently used.

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Credit to Historia TC

This circuit is where Argentina’s top series, the Turismo Carretera, truly shines. Turismo Carretera, which has existed since 1937 and been under the same ownership since 1939, is technically a stock car series. The series, which mostly runs tracks with more sweeping corners, employs double-file restarts and a Chase system to try and imitate NASCAR as best as it can, yet unlike NASCAR, which has had wavering popularity over the past couple years, Turismo Carretera has continued to be extremely popular. It’s one of the most exciting racing series in existence, but also one of the more dangerous series.

The early days of Turismo Carretera were highlighted by circuits that more closely resembled rally layouts than permanent tracks, and due to this co-drivers were often required. As the series switched to permanent layouts and temporary street circuits, co-drivers became mostly unneeded, though most teams kept them anyway. One of the teams to do this was that of Raul Petrich.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

Raul Alberto Petrich was born in 1958 and started competing in Turismo Carretera in 1989. He used a Dodge in an era when Dodge did not have too many high ranked drivers in the Turismo Carretera, and frequently ran in the top 15 when most of the other drivers running his manufacturer were towards the back. Raul, who was nicknamed ‘Pepino’, or ‘Cucumber’, due to his rather imposing height of 6-foot-3 and his lean body, finished third at Parana in 1997, his best career finish. Raul, whose family owned both a service station and a flour, sugar and coal provider, also competed in the 24 Hours Of Daytona in 1996. The Team Argentina Oldsmobile completed 377 laps in the race before it broke down and retired. Raul’s team finished 36th out of the 76 starters and 11th out of the 29 cars in his class.

Rafaela was an outdated circuit by the late 90s, its barriers having not been updated since the USAC visit. This became evident when driver Guillermo Del Barrio and co-driver Luis Patti went straight on due to a mechanical failure in turn three during a qualifying race in 1997. The car collapsed the guardrail and flew out of the speedway.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

The vehicle rolled violently end over end several times and came back down onto its wheels. Thankfully, the car’s occupants were unhurt besides a few bruises. As the wagon train returned to Rafaela the next year, most competitors kept this in the back of their minds, but officials reassured everyone that the barriers had seen some updating. Evidently, it was not enough.

On July 31st, 1998, two days before the planned main event, Raul Petrich was running a practice session at the circuit. He had a rather fast car and clocked an upper-midfield time, but evidently he thought he could go even faster. Raul explained to his team that he detected an issue with the car’s undercarriage that was holding him back. Oscar Lafeudo, a chassis expert for his team, offered to throw on a driving suit and sit in the co-driver’s seat, which was legal during practice and testing only. Danilo Di Napoli, Raul’s usual co-driver, hopped out of the passenger’s seat, and Oscar hopped in to try and see what needed improving.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Oscar is the man on the left

The pair ran a few laps, and Raul was called into the pits at 5:45 p.m., with a few minutes left in the session. On what was planned to be his last lap of the day, a tire blew on the #63 Dodge GTX in the south corner of the oval and he went straight on into the wall at about 140mph. The car struck the guardrail, damaging it severely and breaking off the top half of the guardrail. The chunk penetrated the car at the passenger door B-post. The car bounced off of the bottom half of the guardrail and came to a stop in the middle of the corner.

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Credit to Olé

Emergency workers arrived within thirty seconds, but when the first worker looked inside, he immediately signalled to his colleagues that the occupants were dead. 40-year-old Raul Petrich and 44-year-old Oscar Lafeudo had both perished instantly. Petrich had had his chest pieced just below the neck and had been killed by massive internal injuries. Lafeudo, on the other hand, was even worse off. The guardrail had struck him in the neck, cleanly decapitating him.

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Lafeudo’s helmet; Credit to HistoriaTC

The practice session was immediately called off and the race was cancelled shortly thereafter. Competitors mourned the loss of the duo and moved on to the next event with heavy hearts, and Rafaela installed concrete barriers for the series’ next visit the next year. Rafaela, however, continued to be a dangerous track, and it wasn’t long before another man was killed.

On April 30th, 2000, Turismo Carretera’s annual Rafaela trip came around. On lap one of the race, Diego Ponte’s Ford Falcon blew its motor and slid in its own oil. On approach to the third chicane on the entrance of the north turn, the car spun off into the grass and struck a photographer, 44-year-old Roberto Abarza. Abarza died of his injuries, and officials blamed him for standing in a prohibited area. Ponte, whose number, ironically, was 63, was physically unhurt, and the race continued onwards. But it was about to get even worse.

Turismo Carretera has several lower series, one of which is TC Pista. Basically the Turismo Carretera’s Xfinity Series, this is the junior series where drivers can show team owners what they’re made of and hopefully be promoted to Turismo Carretera. Alberto Noya was one of these competitors. By trade a veterinarian, Noya first started competing in TC Pista in 2001, and was a well known figure in the series. Not much is known about his co-driver, Gabriel Miller, but both were from the Buenos Aires area.

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Noya (right); Unsure if that is Miller on the left; Credit to TyC Sports

On July 16th, 2006, Noya was running towards the front of the field after an early restart in the TC Pista event at Rafaela when he spun in a chicane. The #39 Dodge stalled in the chicane, and before the car could be refired, was struck directly in the passenger’s door by Hugo Fayanás’ #33 car.

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Credit to Lagaceta

Despite wearing some sort of head and/or neck restraint, Gabriel Miller, 42, was killed in the crash, the G-forces of the impact having caused extreme head injuries. Though he was extricated alive, 30-year-old Alberto Noya died three days later, his brain having suffered severe trauma due to the massive sudden horizontal movement. Fayanás was uninjured. The race was cancelled on the spot, and shortly thereafter, the Turismo Carretera race was called off. Fans were not pleased by this decision and began setting banners and tires alight, but the officials did not budge. Shortly thereafter, Turismo Carretera made an incredible maneuver.

When Turismo Carretera started in 1937, most races were through the countryside across dirt and pavement surfaces, and due to this, co-drivers were required. They’d stayed throughout the years, but with the death of Miller, along with another crash in 2004 that had also happened at Rafaela (in the same chicane no less) where a co-driver was terribly injured and was in the hospital for two months, the Turismo Carretera decided that their time was up. They were to be done away with after the 2007 season, but not even this was going to stay.

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Credit to Diario El 9 De Julio

On April 22nd, 2007, 40-year-old Guillermo Castellanos was attempting to navigate a crash at Rivadavia when his vehicle was struck near the back axle. It was far from the worst crash in Turismo Carretera history, and Castellanos’ co-driver was able to evacuate the car on his own, but Castellanos was fatally injured, having suffered several massive fractures. Though Guillermo’s co-driver was not badly hurt, it was quickly decided that co-drivers would be disallowed starting at the next event, and as such, a seventy-year tradition ended. Racing, however, continues at Rafaela, and the Turismo Carretera continues to put on incredible shows at the ultra-wide, high-speed oval.

 

Sources:

“[Carrera Nº 917-A] – 10º fecha (suspendida) – Autódromo de Rafaela (02/08/1998)”, November 24th, 2012 post to the HistoriaTC forum

“[Carrera Nº 900] – 9º fecha – Rafaela (20/07/1997)”, May 27th, 2011 post to the HistoriaTC forum

“El dolor golpeó a La Plata”, August 2nd, 1998 post to Olé

“Tragedia”, August 1st, 1998 post to Olé

“La conmovedora historia del piloto, el perro y la veterinaria”, August 23rd, 2006 post to infobae

“Otra tragedia del TC se llevó la vida de Guillermo Castellanos”, April 23rd, 2007 post to La Nacion

“El como y por que del fatal accidente de Rafaela”, undated post to Nuevo ABC Rural

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Who Was John Blewett, III?

It’s back to New Hampshire this weekend. While Loudon is a decent track for NASCAR, the real highlights of the weekend are the Modifieds. The Modifieds are usually incredible at the low banked 1.058 mile oval, hitting speeds so high that the cars require restrictor plates. It’s not rare to have 25 lead changes. The record is 35, but the record for a race that did not end in a green-white-checkered is 30, having occurred in 2000. It was won by John Blewett, III.

In case you don’t know, I’m from New Jersey. Granted, I come from the northern end of the state, but on the rare occasions I do go to races myself, I usually come across many people wearing shirts in tribute to John Blewett, III.

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Credit to Green White Checker

John Blewett, III was born on October 25th, 1973 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey into a family of racers. Both John, Sr. and John, Jr. had many years of experience, and in fact John, Jr. raced in the Winston Modified Tour for a couple of years. By trade, the Blewett family owns a waste disposal company.

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John in either 1992 or 1993; Credit to ARRA

John, who considered Howell, New Jersey to be his hometown, began racing in 1984 and moved to the short tracks in 1992. John quickly found success and even won the NASCAR Regional Northeast division in 1996. He swept several divisions in the waning years of Flemington Speedway’s existence and quickly moved full time to the Whelen Modified Tour. Success came with his move, as Blewett finished third in points in 2001 and 2003. Over the course of his career, John Blewett, III won ten events and four poles, and finished in the top ten in about half his races. He ran many different car numbers across his career, though when he could, John usually preferred the #76.

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John circa 2002; Credit to ARRA

John, however, was most known for his personality. He often worked on his own cars, worked long shifts at his family’s business, and rarely had major sponsorship, or any sponsorship at all besides maybe the aforementioned family business. An extremely fair and outgoing sportsman, John frequently credited his crew members, who were usually handpicked by himself, with his victories, and insisted that the best driver-crew combo almost always won the race. He believed this so passionately that he was once seen looking disappointed for fellow competitor James Civali when Civali lost the Loudon 2006 race due to a scoring error, despite Blewett himself being the beneficiary.

It took effort to anger John, but when mad, John was extremely aggressive, with multiple incidents between him and Ted ‘T.C.’ Christopher reported. In the end, however, John preferred quick capitalizing on mistakes over flat-out wrecking people. John’s racing style netted him the 1996 and 1997 Flemington Speedway track titles, the 1996 New Egypt Speedway track title (New Egypt became a dirt track shortly thereafter), and the Wall Stadium track title in 2006. John also won the 1995 Race Of Champions at Flemington, the 2003 and 2005 North South Shootout Modified race at Concord, and the 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005 Turkey Derbys at Wall. He is documented as having won 97 races since switching to cars in 1992. Additionally, though it wasn’t a race in the traditional sense, John won a battle with colon cancer in early 2005.

In 2001, Jimmy Blewett, John’s younger brother by seven years, started his career. The two raced together frequently both in Modifieds and the Blewett family’s other racing ventures, which included TQ midgets and ISMA supermodifieds. They even finished one-two, John in front, at Stafford in 2006.

John’s 2007 season was an extremely unlucky one. He frequently ran well, but most of his great runs ended early in crashes. He did finish second to his brother at Wall Stadium early in the year, but besides that his year went poorly. He looked to turn this around at the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson on August 16th, 2007.

The 150-lap race was utterly punctuated by cautions, with seven in the first 99 laps alone. James Civali dominated most of the race, but was taken out in a crash just prior to lap 100. John Blewett, III took the lead and held it, but on a restart on lap 107, one of the most heartbreaking accidents in all of motorsport occurred.

Jimmy Blewett in the #12 was racing side by side with his brother’s #66 car when a tire blew on Jimmy’s vehicle in the middle of turn one. Jimmy’s car went straight and struck his brother’s vehicle at speed. The #12 car both jumped on top of the #66 and spun back around, fracturing a piece of Jimmy’s rear bumper and sending it flying into the window net. The net, never meant to deal with such large debris, did not hold, and John was struck in the head. Also collected in the accident was the #79 Pontiac of Woody Pitkat. The red flag was waved almost immediately.

Jimmy Blewett, uninjured, leapt from his car, which had come to rest still atop the #66, and ran over to check on his brother. Seeing that he had suffered heavy injuries, Jimmy began yelling for the safety crew to arrive, which they did within seconds. Drivers parked their cars on the frontstretch, then immediately congregated nearby the scene of the accident to see what would become of John. It took about 25 minutes to extricate him, and he was rushed to the Hubbard Regional Hospital in Webster, Massachusetts, three miles away from the circuit. John Blewett, III likely arrived at the hospital at about 10:30 p.m., 45 minutes after the crash, and was shortly thereafter pronounced dead of massive head injuries. The race had passed half distance and could be declared official, and so it was. Todd Szegedy was given the win.

By four the next morning, Jimmy Blewett had returned back to his home in Howell, New Jersey. The Blewett family somehow managed to sleep a couple of hours, and when they awoke, it was to a front yard abound with flowers. The news of Blewett’s death had spread quickly, and fans had placed flowers in the front yard of their home. The family had a service for Blewett at Wall Stadium on the 18th, in which Modified legend Jamie Tomaino drove Blewett’s car for its final lap of the 0.333 mile oval, and Blewett was laid to rest privately. It would only be one month before Jimmy Blewett was back behind the wheel of a race car, and he finished up the year.

Though the Blewett family team left the NASCAR Modified Tour after 2013, Jimmy Blewett continues to race in the NASCAR Modifieds on occasion, and also still races TQ midgets and IMSA supermodifieds across the Northeast. Blewett, whose nickname is ‘Showtime’, has since adopted his brother’s number of 76. He also serves as the driving coach for his nephew, John Blewett, IV, who entered the Sportsman class at Wall in 2017.

Every year, Wall Stadium holds a 76-lap race for John, III, which Jimmy has won at least once. Wall Stadium has also retired the #76 from further use, though the Blewett family is allowed to use it if they so choose. The North-South Shootout at Concord was also renamed for Blewett.

A caring man and a skilled racer, John Blewett, III is the most recent fatality due to a crash in a NASCAR race run in the United States. Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

Sources:

John Blewett, III’s entry on NJ Sports Heroes

A career win list of John Blewett, III compiled by Fred Voorhees, available on ARRA

‘Crash at Thompson Kills Driver’, August 17th, 2007 edition of the Hartford Courant

‘Speed kills brother in tragic NASCAR nightmare’, August 18th, 2007 edition of the NY Daily News

‘Conn. crash kills auto-racing star’, August 18th, 2007 edition of the Asbury Park Press