Watkins Glen Xfinity Series car has life-saving message after owner saved in barn collapse

·5 min read

The No. 66 MBM Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro competing in Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International has a story of help and appreciation to tell.

The message on the rear of the the car named 2nd Chances: "Thank You 1st Responders & Law Enforcement." On the side is a reminder to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles, along with thanks to Mercy Flight Central for aiding team owner Craig Partee of Seneca Falls two years ago after he suffered major injuries in a barn collapse.

"These people go to these accident scenes, fires, rescues and unselfishly put themselves in harm to save other people’s lives," Partee said. "If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s not like I was going to get myself out of that situation."

More:Denny Hamlin on his 2016 Watkins Glen victory and the win that got away at Pocono

More:How Watkins Glen race can impact NASCAR playoffs and 4 more storylines to watch

This will be the second year in a row Partee and company bring the 2nd Chances stock car to Watkins Glen International through a partnership between Hill's Fleur De Lis Motorsports and MBM Motorsports. Carl Long, who used to drive for Partee in the Xfinity Series, is one of the owners of MBM. Longtime friend Timmy Hill, a regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will again handle driving duties after finishing 29th in a 40-car field last year.

20202 seriously hurt in Ontario County barn collapse

The Sunoco Go Rewards 200 at The Glen is set for a 3 p.m. start Saturday and will be televised live by USA Network.

Partee, 51, has been interested in racing since building Microd racers as a kid. He has competed in asphalt and SCCA events and been involved in NASCAR for 30 years as an owner, mechanic, engine tuner and tire person. Partee made his first trip to Watkins Glen at age 16, watching as this year's Go Bowling at The Glen grand marshal Rusty Wallace picked up a victory at the road course.

Barn collapse brings help

Along with his involvement in racing, Partee works full-time in construction and is a partner in Fleur De Lis Brew Works in Seneca Falls.

Partee and others were dismantling an 1800s barn on June 26, 2020 near Farmington – an Ontario County town about 20 miles from Rochester – when a sudden shift of the roof left his life hanging in the balance as others scrambled to safety, some suffering minor injuries.

Help arrived with urgency for Partee, a lifelong resident of Seneca Falls whose injuries included six broken ribs, a punctured lung, fractures and torn tendons in both ankles, a nicked liver and lacerations.

"Somebody yelled from outside that it’s falling," Partee said. "Then it’s like, OK, a split-second decision. Where do you run to and what’s going to be the safest point? I was kind of close to the building and I just kind of crouched down on the ground hoping everything would stay together enough that it wouldn’t crush me with the peak. You could see daylight in front of me, but I was pinned with the roof on top of my right shoulder and the right side of my body was pinned on top of a beam that knocked me over the top of. I could wiggle my feet, I just couldn’t move."

Neighbors including one that owns the trackhoe wasted no time in coming to help Robert Nowakowski and his family deal with a collapsed barn on their farm near Dale that was taken out by a storm on Sunday night.
Neighbors including one that owns the trackhoe wasted no time in coming to help Robert Nowakowski and his family deal with a collapsed barn on their farm near Dale that was taken out by a storm on Sunday night.

After passing out, he awoke to find two Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) treating him, along with two firefighters.

Outside the building a medical worker yelled instructions and additional firefighters worked to extricate Partee from the rubble.

An Ontario County sheriff lay beside Partee to keep him steady and calm, later checking up on him after he had been transported by Mercy Flight to Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital.

Bringing awareness through racing

Partee remembered growing up in the 1980s and hearing classmates often talk about wanting to be a firefighter, police officer or doctor.

He is hoping to generate more buzz in schools about the importance of people in those types of jobs, adding people often drive by a fire department or ambulance base and take for granted they're fully staffed and equipped to handle one or more emergencies.

"Especially in the rural areas, where they’re not paid, or ambulance squads where they’re paid a lot less than the city markets, it's very hard for them to get workers or volunteers to work on the rigs or show up at the trucks or even the police departments to keep a fully staffed patrol because everybody is going to where they’re giving more money," Partee said.

"I know if we don't fix this problem in the near future, no one may be available to respond to a 911 call in a time of need. I am alive today because of the care of law enforcement, fire services, medics, EMTs, nurses and doctors."

Hopeful of top-10 finish

The racing component to this weekend is also significant for Partee. Last year's effort at Watkins Glen was stymied by transmission issues. Partee said Hill told him the car was one of the better ones he had driven and praised its ability to be driven deep into corners.

"We’re hoping for top-10, top-15 finish," Partee said. "Last year we were hoping for that because we had a brand new chassis, but we had a transmission issue, so we didn’t show what we came to prove ‒ that we were capable of running up there with the bigger and better teams."

The car is designed for road courses and Watkins Glen could be its only race of 2022, though Partee added there's a chance for a second event. Partee is confident they have the right guy behind the wheel.

"I’ve known (Hill) for a long time," Partee said. "He’s a really good driver, he takes care of the equipment, he knows how to qualify really well and he’s really excited this year to be in a really good car and was kind of disappointed last year that we had the mechanical issue with the transmission. We’ve switched styles for this year and done a few other things to the car to update it and hopefully make it a little better on the track."

Follow Andrew Legare on Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare. You can also reach him at alegare@gannett.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on Elmira Star-Gazette: Seneca Falls' Craig Partee honors First Responders at WGI NASCAR race