Saturday, October 9, 2010

Former NASCAR driver Hmiel airlifted after USAC crash

Shane Hmiel was airlifted to Methodist Hospital following an accident while qualifying his United States Auto Club Silver Crown car at Terre Haute Action Track on Saturday, according to Jason Smith, USAC senior vice president for race operations. Smith says Hmiel is in critical condition with head injuries, as of 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

Hmiel, 30, has competed in the top three USAC divisions and scored his first Sprint Car win at Iowa Speedway in 2009, the same season he earned USAC’s Most Improved Driver Award and Rookie of the Year honors at the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, OK.

Touted as the next IndyCar Series standout, series officials recently commented on his continued climb through the open-wheel ranks.

"I’m excited to see Shane compete with us," Randy Bernard, CEO of the IndyCar Series said recently. "Everyone says he’s a great driver and we’re going to give him a chance. I think that’s very important. Everyone deserves a chance and we’re committed to making sure that he has that opportunity.

"He’s exactly what I’m talking about. He’s a dirt track, short track, Americana and if he makes it over here it’s going to be a great storyline. And that’s the type of thing that we need to develop, then embrace him and give him the opportunity to succeed."

Hmiel began his NASCAR career in the Goody’s Dash Series and won rookie honors in 2001. Hmiel graduated to what is now the Nationwide Series in 2002 and showed great promise. He would compete until 2005, then later was suspended for life from NASCAR following his third violation of the substance-abuse policy.

Since then, Hmiel had his life back on track and was flourishing in the USAC ranks and drawing rave reviews from those he raced against.

In NASCAR, he raced for team owner George DeBidart beginning in 2002, running the full season and finishing 16th in the series standings, an impressive performance for a driver who had appeared in only one race before that season – and that one in the ARCA Series. He ran part of the series' season the following year with the same team, then in 2004 began running full time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Billy Ballew Motorsports while continuing to run part time in the Nationwide Series for a series of teams.

He also made his Sprint Cup Series debut that year, running five races for Bill Davis Racing and earning a top finish of 24th.

Overall, Hmiel made seven Cup starts in two seasons. He made a total of 83 Nationwide start over four years, earning 23 top-10 finishes, 10 of them top fives. He made a total of 29 Camping World Truck Series starts, winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2004.

Hmiel's father Steve is currently director of competition for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

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