PETALUMA, Calif. — Geoff Ensign won a sprint car race at Petaluma Speedway Saturday night and scored an emotional victory over pain and despair at the same time.
Ensign jumped into the lead on lap nine of the 25-lap race by passing his wife, Shayna, and then beat back a hard charge by D.J. Johnson over the last five laps to seal the win in the USAC-sanctioned event for 360 non-wing sprint cars.
After being greeted by his wife in victory circle, the former Petaluma Speedway track champion had to take several deep breaths to regain his composure before the winners’ interview. He had many people to thank for the win — and near the top of his list was not someone who worked on his car. It was his physical therapist who worked to put his body back together so he could race again.
Ensign’s journey back to racing and into victory lane took 105 days, after what started as a leisurely afternoon motorcycle ride turned tragic. A car pulled out in front of him and his wife and the result for Ensign was a shattered hip among other injuries, putting his racing career on hold.
For Ensign, Saturday night was a test after months of rehab and coming to the track on crutches. “I wanted to run my own car, to make sure I was 100 percent,” he said. “But after I was second-fastest qualifier, I told myself I was going for the win.”
Although he walked with a slight limp in the pits, Ensign was full-speed on-track from the drop of the green flag. On the backstretch during the first lap, he split a pair of cars with fractions of an inch to spare to dive into second behind Shayna with Johnson on his rear bumper.
When Shayna Ensign missed her mark coming off turn four, her husband and Johnson both rocketed past her. Johnson hounded Ensign for the duration of the non-stop event and the pair broke away to a two-car duel a full straightaway ahead of the field. With five laps to go, Johnson worked his way under Ensign and the pair came off turn four side by side in dead heat, but Ensign took advantage of momentum on the high side of the track to beat back the challenge.
“I was cruising a bit to save my stamina,” Ensign confessed. “But when he got beside me, I knew it was time to get up on the wheel.”
The last 105 days “have definitely been rough,” Ensign conceded. “It was hard and depressing to not be a part of racing and it took a lot of perseverance,” he added. “The rehab was draining and at first I couldn’t even put socks on without help. Now I can put on socks, tie my shoes and drive a race car again.”
Ensign admitted that the victory “took a big load off my shoulders” and added “I can’t wait to send the victory lane pictures to my therapist.”
Johnson was a happy runner-up.
“Racing was fun but we struggled with the car and I lost the brakes for a while in the middle of the race,” he said. “We just need more time in this car and this wasn’t the night to pull the trigger when I got beside Geoff.”