A Shakespearean Tragedy on Wheels: The Sad Saga of Shane Hmiel

Peter SchaeferContributor IIMarch 27, 2011

Shane Hmiel was born with racing in his blood, his father had been a championship crew chief and crew member, winning two championships with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. By the time Shane could walk, he knew what he wanted to be—he wanted to be like the guys his dad worked for.

Fast forward to 2001 when Shane was getting his racing career under way, he showed promise by winning Rookie of the Year in the Goody's Dash Series (now defunct). After a fifth place points finish in the series, Hmiel moved up to the Busch (now Nationwide) series running full time between 2002-2003. Showing steady improvement through his first season that included eight top-10 finishes and two poles, Hmiel was on the fast track to stardom.

In 2003, Hmiel got off to a fast start, but mechanical problems saw him tumble in points. He appeared to be on a hot streak again after a dominating performance at Indianapolis Raceway Park, although he faded to fourth in that race, the run confirmed he would be a force to reckon with the following year. Unfortunately, next year never came, as in late 2003, he was suspended indefinitely for falling a drug test.

He was reinstated early in 2004 and signed on to drive in the Craftsman Truck (now Camping World Truck) series, where he had a moderately successful season in which he scored his only NASCAR win. In 2005, he ran his most Busch Series races since 2003. His return to the series was overshadowed by an ugly on track incident with Dale Jarrett. At a race in Dover later in the year, it was brought to NASCAR'S attention that Hmiel had failed a second drug test. He was escorted out of the track by officials. 

Hmiel was offered a chance at reinstatement in 2006, by having to submit to medical and physiological reviews and frequent drug testing. In February of that year, he failed a third drug test and was subsequently banned from NASCAR for life. After getting help with his addictions, Hmiel resurfaced in USAC (United States Auto Club) in 2009 where he scored his first win in nearly five years. He also received the most improved driver award, earning a measure of redemption.

In the 2010 season, Hmiel seamed to have his life in order, no more were the off track temptations. He was clean and sober for four years and could simply focus on racing. He posted three wins and set a world record. Life was finally good for Shane Hmiel.

That all changed in October of 2010, qualifying his sprint car, he was involved in a savage crash that left him paralyzed and fighting for his life. Doctor's worked frantically to save Shane Hmiel's life reviving him four times during the evening.  Shane's condition is stable now, he is out of a coma and starting to get feeling back in his appendages. 

Shane Hmiel in all likelihood will never race again. He faces a long recovery to even walk again. Shane Hmiel had to overcome a lot to be the person he is today. Some people might call what happened to him karma—others a sad twist of fate. This writer simply calls it one more challenge to overcome.