WHEATLAND, MO. (April 7, 2021) – Few people outside of his immediate circle knew just how close Will Vaught’s racing career came to ending last year following a family bicycle ride gone wrong.
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It was just after the COVID 19 shutdown began last March when the 2019 Lucas Oil MLRA champion broke the little finger on his right hand in a bike accident near his Crane, Missouri home. Vaught shrugged the injury off – at least for a while.
“That was just the beginning of a seemingly never-ending story,” Vaught said this week. “I was optimistic that it was nothing. I still had to work. I’ve broke fingers before, jammed fingers playing basketball and whatever. (But) this was pretty gruesome.”
After a few weeks, the pain proved too much and Vaught underwent surgery. A pin was inserted to promote healing, but the pain persisted. Vaught continued to work and attempted to race a few times, at first intending to try and defend his MLRA title once the schedule resumed in early summer.
“Every time I raced, my hand hurt so bad I couldn’t hardly concentrate on driving,” he said. “It was just a bad deal.”
The pin became infected and infected the bone all the way up to his knuckle. By August, Vaught underwent another surgery. The finger had to be amputated, in order to save his right hand.
“My wife said, ‘You have to go to the doctor.’ Obviously, I waited too long,” Vaught said. “Now, I still see that bicycle wreck every time I look at my hand.”
Vaught, 34, makes his return to MLRA action this weekend at Lucas Oil Speedway for the 8th annual MLRA Spring Nationals Presented by RacingJunk.com. It’ll be his third consecutive week at the speedway, after a test session in late March followed by an outing in Larry Moon’s ULMA Late Model last Saturday, resulting in a feature win.
“I love the Moon brothers. They’re always fun to be around,” Vaught said. “But the biggest reason I raced was to see if I could still do it, one, and two see if we could still be successful at it.”
Vaught said the extra track time should be something of an advantage this weekend, in what’s expected to be a large and talented field of entries.
“That was one of my old cars, that I sold to Larry,” Vaught said. “The set-up this weekend will be a little different, but I’ve been on that track three weeks in a row. It’ll be different with so many cars there (this weekend) but I would think we’ll have a little bit of an advantage because we’ve drove so many laps around it.”
Vaught, whose 16 career MLRA feature wins are tied for 12th-most in series history, is simply happy to be in the mix and pain free. He admitted there were times last fall, after the amputation, that he wondered if his racing days might be over.
“A month or so after my finger was removed, it hurt so bad that I didn’t have any grip at all,” Vaught said. “Now, I can shake hands with somebody and be normal. But it was kind of depressing for a while.
“It took months before I could feel like I could yank on something or feel halfway strong. They said the little finger is about 40 percent of your grip. I did a lot of exercises. The last few months I’ve been working out, doing push-ups and pull-ups and it’s come a long way. I don’t feel like it affects my everyday life now.”
While he’s pumped to be back on the race track, don’t expect “Will the Thrill” to spend the year traveling up and down Midwestern highways and chasing MLRA points. With three kids playing sports and two businesses to operate, Vaught said he will pick and choose his racing opportunities.
“The businesses (Johnson Service Center and Circle V Auto Sales) are hopping right now and I feel very fortunate,” Vaught said. “We’ll race when we can and when we can afford it, but we’ll do it as a family and have fun when we race.”
He noted that 11-year-old son Maddox is playing basketball and baseball, 9-year-old daughter Mallory is into softball and volleyball and 3-year-old son Myles is just starting t-ball.
“We have our hands full, but it’s great,” he said of himself and wife Ashtin. “You can only cherish this time once. I love racing, but … you can always race. You can’t have your 11-year-old and your 9-year-old that age but one time.”
The MLRA Fall Nationals is the first special event of the Lucas Oil Speedway season and will feature some of the nation’s top national-touring Late Model drivers mixing it up with the regional regulars. The MLRA feature on Friday will pay $5,000 to win and $500 to start, with the April 10 winner earning $10,000 with $600 to start. The Spring Nationals winners’ shares originally were $3,000 and $5,000.
A practice session for all classes participating that weekend is scheduled for Thursday from 6-9 p.m. Pit passes will be $25 and the grandstands free to the public. The Diamond Bar will be open and concessions available on the pit side.
USRA Modifieds, Stock Cars also in action: Joining the MLRA Late Models at both nights of the MLRA Spring Nationals will be two members of Lucas Oil Speedway’s Big Adventure RV Weekly Racing Series lineup: The Cedar Creek Beef Jerky USRA Modifieds (running for $750 to win on Friday and $1,000 on Saturday) and O’Reilly Auto Parts USRA Stock Cars (running for $500 to win on Friday and $750 on Saturday).
VIP Suite tickets available: Fans can take in this weekend’s 8th annual Lucas Oil MLRA Fall Nationals Presented by RacingJunk.com at Lucas Oil Speedway in style and with a suite view. Admissions director Nichole McMillan said that an 18-seat VIP Suite on the third-level overlooking the front straightaway is available for both Friday and Saturday nights.
Individual suite tickets are $40 for Friday and $50 for Saturday. All VIP Suite seats must be pre-paid and can be reserved by calling McMillan at (417) 282-5984.
The suite offers prime viewing from inside, where the temperature is climate-controlled, or an outside seating area. Food and drinks are not included in the ticket price, though a host/hostess will be available to take food and drink orders throughout the evening.
Pit and spectator gates will open at 4 p.m. both race days with hot laps at 6:30 p.m. and racing at 7:05.
Adults (16 and over) $20
Seniors (62 and over)/Military $17
Youth (ages 6-15) $10
Kids (5 & under) FREE
Family Pass $50
Pit Pass $35
Adult (16 and over) $25
Senior (62 and over)/Military $22
Youth (ages 6-15) $10
Kids (5 & under) FREE
Family Pass $60
Pit Pass $40
For ticket information for any event during the 2021 Lucas Oil Speedway season, contact Admissions Director Nichole McMillan at (417) 282-5984 or via email at Nichole@lucasoilspeedway.com. Fans also can use the online ticketing system.
Lucas Oil Speedway General Manager
Office: (417) 282-5984