OSCEOLA — This was exactly the event for Ryan Gortney. Family and friends coming together for a good cause, coupled with the roar of engines at Osceola Dragway.
Unfortunately, Gortney could not attend the festivities because the fundraiser was actually a benefit for him.
Several weeks ago, the Elkhart Area Career Center instructor and drag racer suffered severe neck injuries while testing his Wheelie Wagon car.
After hearing about the accident, NHRA driver and Elkhart native Terry McMillen and Scott Wahlstrom, marketing manager for Lane Automotive, decided to put on a fundraiser for Gortney to help with his medical bills. And they knew exactly where they wanted to hold it.
Wahlstrom said it took about two weeks to put together the event, which ran from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday and featured car shows, raffles and a silent auction.
What pleasantly surprised Wahlstrom was the attendance at the event. He estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people, which Chuck Begler, a head judge for the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge, attributed to Gortney's personality and influence on his friends and students.
“There's a lot of good teachers out there,” said Begler referring to instructors in the Engine Challenge, “but he's right there at the top.”
For the last several years, Gortney has led teams from the Career Center in the competition. Begler noted Gortney's hands-on approach to instruction and his passion for wanting his students to succeed. Gortney's teams have qualified for the national competition held in Las Vegas for three of the past four years, according to Wahlstrom.
Many people came out to support Gortney with the hope he gets back to doing what he loves soon.
“Every day he's better,” Wahlstrom said. He noted that Gortney was in for a long recovery process, adding that he recently began physical therapy. His arms get tired easily and he struggles to move his legs at this point, but the prognosis is good and Gortney's attitude is positive.
“He's a fighter, he's like Superman,” Wahlstrom laughed, meaning his friend probably won't be held back too long.