We as humans have been conditioned to fear death, to delay death, to dread it. But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the greatest thing to happen in our lives is death?
On Sunday evening, Kramer Williamson endured a death that was very indicative of his life, one that celebrated it, one that honored it.
A long-time sprint-car driver, Williamson, a resident of Palmyra and a native of Mechanicsburg, succumbed at York Hospital, after suffering critical injuries during a qualifying race at Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown on Saturday night. Competing in the United Racing Company 358/360 Sprint Car Challenge, Williamson,63, was airlifted to the hospital where he underwent surgery.
Williamson was on the fourth of a ten-lap heat race when his colorful number 73, affectionately known as ‘The Pink Panther’, caught the left rear tire of a competitor, smashed into a retaining wall on the second turn, scaled the fence and then returned to the track before flipping several times. Emergency Medical Technicians extricated Williamson from the accident, which occurred around 8:30 p.m.
“It was not an extraordinary accident,” said Alan Kreitzer, co-owner at Lincoln Speedway and a life-long friend of Williamson. “He made contact with another car. It just had an usual and tragic result.
“When I learned of his passing, I thought of his family,” added Kreitzer. “He has an adoring wife and two children.”
“Any time a race car driver wrecks like that and doesn’t get out of the car right of way, you’re concerned,” said Jeremy Elliott, a sportswriter and dirt-track guru for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg. “As this story developed, you’re also concerned about Kramer, his family and the racing community.
“I don’t think sprint-car racing is any more dangerous than any other motor sport,” added Elliott. “I think there’s a chance we won’t see anything like this for five, eight, ten more years. It just hope it doesn’t happen.”
Williamson, who has been racing for more than 40 years, was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall-of-Fame in Knoxville, Iowa in 2008, as well as the United Racing Company’s Hall-of-Fame in 2011. Simply known as ‘Kramer’, Williamson was just as popular with his fellow competitors as he was his fans.
Williamson recorded 67 wins during his illustrious 360-sprint car career and captured three United Racing Company points titles.
“He dedicated his life to racing,” said Kreitzer. “He was not only a racer but a builder. He provided cars to a lot of different teams over the years. He made it a family endeavor. It was a real family affair. He accomplished many goals he set for himself. And he matured into an elder statesman for the sport.
“We went to high school together and he started racing when he was a junior,” Kreitzer continued. “I really knew him all of our adult lives. He started racing at Silver Spring and was track champion at a very early age. He was clearly better than a lot of the other drivers.”
“He was viewed as a character,” said Elliott. “He was always joking around. He was a great racer and a fierce competitor. He was a sprint car legend. He was very influential in the sport.”
On Monday, Williamson’s famed ‘Pink Panther’ was parked on the front lawn of his residence on North Grant Street in Palmyra. Accompanying the racer was a sign that simply said ‘God Speed Kramer”, as well as flowers and racing memorabilia.
“As far as Kramer the person, he was fun to be around,” said Kreitzer. “He was an amazing conversationalist. During his last ten years with URC, I had more contact with him.
“They saying racing gets in your blood, and that was certainly true of Kramer,” Kreitzer continued. “He raced go-carts as a kid. Then he moved into open-wheel racing and almost became a champion immediately. And he designed cars. To say racing was in his blood is putting it mildly.”
“I think you need to be careful when you’re talking about losing skills,” said Elliott. “Are drivers over 50 as good as when they’re 30? No. He went over a wheel. It had nothing to do with him being older. Age is a tricky thing. I don’t think there’s an age when you say you have to stop. There’s a lot of racers over 40, and a lot of them are the top drivers. He (Williamson) simply got into a corner, was passing a guy and got over a wheel.”
In addition to Lincoln, Williamson raced at Williams Grove, Port Royal and Selinsgrove. And this weekend, those tracks will honor Williamson and his family by wearing pink and by collecting funds in his memory.
“Kramer wasn’t just competing at one track on a regular basis,” said Kreitzer. “All of our area sprint tracks are going together in a fund-raising effort for the Williamson family. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of something like that. That just speaks to Kramer’s legacy. It’s a great tribute to him, and it’s well-deserved.”
“Any time you get in a car and go fast, there’s danger,” said Elliott. “In any form of motor sport, there’s danger. They (the drivers) know that. They understand that. They accept that. But you can get hurt in any sport. Is racing a little more dangerous? Yes. But officials are trying to make it as safe as possible.”
Williamson is survived by his wife Sharon, son Kurt and daughter Felecia.