From a terrible tragedy rose a masterpiece of mud and mayhem with the running of the 1st Annual Britton Finkenbinder Memorial May 25 at Path Valley Speedway.
The event, organized by Clair “Trip” Finkenbinder of Fink Racing, raised over $21,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) in memory of his son, Britton Finkenbinder, who passed away last October.
“I wanted to celebrate Britton and who he was and I wanted to raise awareness,” Trip said. “You never know what someone is feeling inside, especially if they hide it and won't tell you. We've become such a judgemental society. There is good is this world. I am a firm believer in that, you have to open up your eyes and look for it and be a catalyst for good.”
The main event of the evening was a Wingless Sportsman Series race that featured Fink Racing's No. 17 car driven by Tony Jackson.
The winner of the race, Joey Biasi, donated $1,200 out of his $4,000 winnings to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. In total, the race teams themselves donated back $4,025 of their winnings to the AFSP.
“We had an incredible purse, the biggest amount of money we've all raced for ever. And to see the guys, the racers, at the end of the night give back what they did. A third of the purse they gave right back to the foundation, it shows you what kind of people are up there racing and what it meant to all of us,” said Steve Wilbur, Trip's friend and promoter for the Wingless Sportsman Series.
Jackson, the crowd favorite, finished 19th in the race. But according to the driver, at the end of the day the race itself wasn't important.
“There was a little bit more pressure on my shoulders and our team's shoulders because it was Brit's dad's car. When you go on the track you just try to block as much out as you can. I feel like you have to. Obviously it was hard and I think it got to us a little bit. Normally we perform better than we did,” Jackson said. “There was a lot of kids there. A lot of Newvillians, a lot of people that I go way back with. Friends of mine that Brit knew. The support was outstanding.”
The track opened at 2 p.m. for a pre-race event that featured the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and several other support organizations. The event also featured live music from Colt Wilbur of the Colt Wilbur Band.
A banner was available to sign and leave a message for Britton. The turnout was terrific and included many from the Big Spring High School community, where Britton was a sophomore. Fink Racing printed out 360 1st annual Britton Finkenbinder Memorial T-shirts and all but 18 were sold.
“When you looked up in the stands and saw close to 350 black T-shirts it meant a lot,” Trip said. “It was about everyone coming together. The turnout from the Big Spring School District, even the Shippensburg School District where Britton had friends, was just phenomenal.”
A plaque was also presented to Trip naming Britton the series' most popular driver for 2019.
“The crowd turnout we had was probably three times the size of a normal crowd we get on Saturday nights. It showed exactly how much that kid was loved and what he meant to his fellow students at Big Spring,” Wilbur said.
Britton was a part of the Fink Racing family and had a bright future in racing. The previous summer he had made his racing debut in the PA Micro Midget Series in his own black No. 17 car sponsored by Fink Racing.
“Britton was part of the team. He was at the race track every week. He started off simply scraping mud off the car and progressed through the years. Last year was helping and trying to understand the setup of the car, working on the shocks,” Trip recalled.
He continued, “Our race team is an extended family, and they were all as devastated as we were when this occurred. It's been one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, is go to the race track without him.”
Wilbur was helping to train Britton for his Micro Sprint debut just before his passing.
“Because I'm an experienced racer, Trip told me to watch him and see how he is doing. We spent the whole night watching him, helping him [race] and giving him some pointers,” Wilbur said. “When it happened we were shocked, devastated and still are.”
Not too long after Britton's funeral, Jackson came up with the idea of putting together a race in his memory.
“Originally I really didn't want Trip to help that much because I knew what he was going through and I just thought it would make it harder on him. He ended up getting involved and with his background in business, we ended up raising way more money than I would have ever raised on my own,” Jackson noted.
Trip put his heart and soul into the event, picking out a date, a location, and spearheading the fundraising effort. Wilbur, Jackson, and Derrick Lay also helped raise money. They raised a total of around $27,000, with a portion of that money going towards the purse.
Additionally, he has already begun looking forward to doing the same thing next year. Money raised from the T-shirt sales have jump started the fundraising efforts.
“The mission is going to remain the same. Selfishly for me, it is to remember Britton and to bring people together. To continue to raise awareness,” Trip said.
Being at the track that day was an emotional time for Trip, but what stuck with him the most occurred two days after the actual race.
According to Trip, during a meal at the diner a young girl he didn't know walked up to him to tell him she had an outstanding time at his son's race. How she knew his son, that he was a great individual and she wanted to let him know how sorry she was.
“She wasn't afraid to come up and say something to me,” he recalled. “It made me realize that the event at least made a little bit of an impact. That's all I'm trying to do. If this money can go toward helping one person, then it is worth every minute and every dime.”
Wingless Super Sportsman 1st Annual Britton Finkenbinder Memorial
1. Joey Biasi 2. Craig Perigo 3. Derek Sheaffer 4. Billy Brian, Jr. 5. Carmen Perigo, Jr. 6. Steve Wilbur 7. Kevin Gutshall 8. Todd Leonard 9. Rohan Beasley 10. Luke Lenker 11. John Stehman 12. Ryan Rutz 13. Len Ozio 14. Steve Whary 15. Tony Hampton 16. Eric Rutz 17. Levi Peck 18. Jason Failor 19. Tony Jackson 20. Greg Fitzpatrick 21. John Winsett 22. Frank Magni 23. Tom Savage 24. Austin Lorah
Lap 17 leader $500 Recipient – Derek Sheaffer
RPM Chassis Hard Charger – Steve Wlibur
CLM Woodwork Best Appearing Sportsman – Ryan Rutz
Jeff Jacobs Artwerks die cast model award – Billy Brian, Jr.
$50 Hard Luck Award – John Winsett