Star-Gazette racing writer recovering from accident
Star-Gazette reporter and photographer Ron Levanduski will undergo surgery Wednesday for injuries suffered during a vintage car race at Watkins Glen International.
Levanduski was photographing Sunday’s New York State Governor’s Cup event for Historic Trans-Am cars from the Boot of the Glen’s 3.37-mile long course when the No. 16 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Bill Bryant of Fruitland Park, Fla., slammed into the “toe area” of the Boot, where Levanduski was working.
“I was knocked out cold,” Levanduski said Monday.
Levanduski was sent by helicopter to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre. He had three broken ribs, three broken bones in his upper left arm along with two puncture wounds in his arm from the breaks, a small “brain bleed,” and multiple cuts and abrasions.
On Monday he said, “I saw through the lens that the Camaro looked like it was making a pass in the corner. I saw a puff of smoke, maybe he was locking his brakes. But he didn’t slow down. He was coming full-bore at me.”
The force of the impact knocked Levanduski 10 feet into the air and into a creek, Phil Barnes, manager of security at WGI, said a witness told him.
Tom Ryder of Binghamton was also shooting the race for the Associated Press from the same spot as Levanduski.
“I was standing 30 feet to his right, right up against the guardrail,” Ryder said Monday, estimating the car was going about 120 mph when it slammed into the tire barrier in front of the guardrail. “Two laps before that I was right next to Ron. We spoke briefly and I told him I was going to move down a bit. Two laps later the car hit right where I would have been standing. The guardrail V’d when the tires kicked back into the guardrail.
“I heard a jolt and the car went through. I looked over and didn’t see Ron. I put my camera down and saw he was laying on his back near a small little bridge made of plywood over this little creek. It had to be 15 feet from the guardrail. I went over to him, and I could hear him moaning and groaning.”
Ryder added Bryan was able to get out of his car and was standing on the grass before he went down.
Bryan was hospitalized and released, according to Tony Parella, president and CEO of Sportscar Vintage Racing Association, which sponsored the race as part of the Glen’s Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix presented by Welliver weekend.
Barnes said Bryan told him he lost his brakes.
Levanduski said he did not have immediate surgery because doctors were concerned about possible infection because of dirt in the wounds. He reported that he had CT scans on his head and arm, joking that a technician told him “It’s a mess,” when he looked at the scan of his arm. Before the scans he was fitted into a neck collar.
The fact that he turned to his right just before impact may have saved his life, Levanduski said. His left side took the hit instead of his front, which could have involved heart or lung damage.
“The nurse said I was lucky,” he said.
Having covered races at Watkins Glen since 1983, Levanduski said he could not recall a media member getting hurt there. He competed as a driver in Formula Atlantic in the 1980s and in Formula Vee in the 1970s, and while he was involved in mishaps but was never seriously hurt.
Levanduski also said he was impressed with the size of the field for the 10-lap event, which drew about 30 entrants. The crash happened on the fourth lap, and the race was stopped but resumed afterward.
“It was a competitive race,” he said. “The lead cars were racing as hard as you could race. I was really enjoying it.”
Bryan’s 1968 Camaro and its storied past is featured on a YouTube video entitled “This Car Matters: 1968 ex-Sunoco Penske Team Trans-Am Camaro.” In the clip, Bryan says, “It doesn’t have power steering, and on a real tight track it’s a handful.”
Parella expressed concern for Levanduski and Bryan.
“We’re sad this happened. I wish both driver and photographer a speedy recovery. Our prayers go out to their families,” he said.
Betsy Mayer, spokeswoman for Watkins Glen International, said the track had no comment at this time.