Kenny Van Blargen of Paso Robles — who’ll be 80 in June — was severely injured this month driving his race car on a track at Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
It happened March 12. He was driving his classic sprint car in a vintage auto race. Sprint cars look like smaller versions of the old IndyCars. Their engines are in front; their wheels stick out; their drivers sit in open cockpits. Vintage sprint cars have little rollover protection.
The cars in that ill-fated race had slowed to 30 or 40 mph under a yellow caution flag. Then the traffic jammed. One of Van Blargen’s wheels climbed a wheel of another car. His car flipped over. He injured his neck and spinal cord.
Doctors at a Las Vegas hospital performed six hours of surgery. He is partially paralyzed but can move his arms, shoulders and head. Further recovery may be possible.
His son, Martin Van Blargen of Paso Robles, said his father was to be flown this week to a rehabilitation center in Marin County. That flight would require a specially equipped plane because he’s still on a ventilator.
Martin Van Blargen said his father started driving race cars in 1949 on the old county fairgrounds track in Paso Robles. He drove for a Paso Robles man who built or converted the cars. Kenny Van Blargen had found his calling.
He made his living driving trucks, but he lived to drive race cars. He won hundreds of races on tracks on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley. He raced hardtops and jalopies and then went on to modified and super-modified cars in NASCAR-sanctioned races.
And, of course, he raced sprint cars. He even owned one for awhile, but eventually got rid of it. Then, years later, he found it abandoned in a field. He eventually restored it and installed an old flathead Ford V-8 engine. That’s the car he was driving March 12.
Van Blargen was born in Santa Maria, but his father moved the family to Paso Robles around 1941 to work on constructing Camp Roberts and the Paso Robles Inn.
A few years later, Van Blargen attended Paso Robles High School and met Susan Winn. They were married and had two daughters and two sons.
His friends have started a medical expense fund for him. You can donate by writing a check to “FBO: Kenny Van Blargen” and mailing it to Santa Lucia Bank, P.O. Box 1947, Paso Robles CA 93447.
Reach Phil Dirkx at email@example.com or 238-2372.