Goodbye, 'Johnny 1-5'
John Schulz's parking space in the Buffalo River Race Park pit area was empty for the first time in years Sunday. Metal stakes held up plastic ropes that outlined a perimeter of where Schulz's car would have parked. Flowers rested on a blue fuel drum inside the makeshift shrine with a handwritten poster dedicated to the driver friends called "Johnny 1-5."
"He was very to himself, but he was also very dedicated to the sport," said Modifieds driver Jeff Odden of Fargo. "He wasn't here to impress anybody. He wasn't here to make a big show. He loved the sport."
Schulz, 47, was killed Saturday night while competing in the Modifieds feature race at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo.
He died after a rollover on the back straightaway of the second lap in the feature at approximately 9:15 p.m., according to the Cass County Sheriff's Department. Schulz, a 23-year racing veteran, was later transported to Innovis Health in Fargo.
The crash remains under investigation, and an autopsy will be conducted by the state medical examiner's office.
The fatality is the first at the Red River Valley Speedway since 35-year-old Greg Nogowski was killed Aug. 7, 1992.
Nogowski rolled his car on the third turn during the first lap of the Late Models feature.
Mike Swangler of Grand Forks, N.D., was killed during a Late Models race at RRVS in 1977.
Odden was trailing a few feet behind Schulz on Saturday night feature when the crash occurred.
Odden said Schulz slid up the track and into fellow longtime driver Jon Bachmeier.
Schulz's car became airborne and slid several feet on its roof before coming to a stop.
"When I saw him launch up in the air, I knew right away it was a bad deal," said Odden, a seven-year local auto racing veteran. "He was a good 25-30 feet in the air. ... I slowed down and turned left to avoid it. I saw his roof hit. That's the last point that I saw."
Bryan Schulz, Red River Valley Fair Association manager and West Fargo city commissioner, was at the speedway Saturday night but said he did not see the crash.
Bryan Schulz said he had met John Schulz a couple of times but did not know him well.
"It's very difficult in this sport to lose anyone," Bryan Schulz said. "To have someone who's been a part of the racing family for over 23 years between our track and Buffalo River and the tracks around here, that makes it very difficult.
"We send out heartfelt condolences out to his family."
At Buffalo River, owner Kevin Nathe flew flags at half-staff to honor John Schulz. Schulz's customary pit parking spot was roped off, and the track observed a moment of silence before racing began.
Nathe said a prayer in front of almost 100 drivers in attendance during the pit meeting.
"Watch over all of us and our racers," Nathe said. "Keep the racers and everyone at the track safe."
Fellow drivers remember Schulz as a modest driver who was into the sport to have fun.
Fargo's Rich Pavlicek, a longtime Modifieds driver, said Schulz was very well liked by his peers.
"He was a guy that came out and just had fun," Pavlicek said. "It didn't matter where he finished. He just wanted to race and have fun with everyone else. He was just happy-go-lucky."
Mike Greseth of Harwood, N.D., said Schulz's accident should serve as a wake-up call for other drivers.
"We are all kind of a family as far as a racing group, so you don't want to see anyone go. But hopefully after it we'll all learn from it and respect each other a little more on the track," Greseth said. "You go out there wanting to win, but you don't think if you are going to go home at night. ... If you have a rival, I think you look at each other now and say, 'Let's just go have fun.' "
Attempts to reach the Schulz family Sunday were unsuccessful. Funeral arrangements were also unavailable Sunday night.