ELKHART — Only two weeks after being involved in a crash that crushed his feet, fractured his vertebrae and broke his sternum, “Mighty” Mike Wortinger was released from the hospital and back home.
The racer suffered an accident May 11, when his car hit another vehicle that was attempting to enter the pits, sending him spinning and crashing head-on against a wall at the New Paris Speedway.
Wortinger, 44, a life-long resident of Elkhart County who works for Monteith Tire Co., has competed in short track races since 1989.
He said he had just gotten back into racing after being out for five years. He decided to start again last year while helping his son, who also competes in short track racing. Wortinger’s father, John, was a racer in the 70s, he said.
The week before the accident, Wortinger had won the race at New Paris Speedway.
The next week, Wortinger was 20 to 30 minutes into the race when he crashed.
“At that point in time I remember thinking, ‘Am I going to make it?’ I wasn’t sure if my next breath was going to be my last,” he said.
He remembers his son talking to him while first responders made their way to the accident.
“I started to become more alert and I was in a lot of pain and I was just hoping they would get me out of the car as quickly as they could,” he said. “I was hurting.”
Wortinger’s son, Spencer, 20, was also racing that night. He said he remembered hearing a loud crashing noise and looking around to see the white-and-blue car with the number 99 — his dad’s.
“It didn’t look so bad until I crawled inside,” he said.
Spencer Wortinger had to crawl into the car through the passenger side to talk to his dad, and it was then he realized much of the front of the vehicle had been pushed in toward his dad.
The fire department had to cut open the car to extricate Mike Wortinger before taking him to IU Health Goshen Hospital.
After an initial evaluation, Mike Wortinger was taken in an ambulance to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne. He was told both his feet had been crushed, his back and vertebrae were fractured, and he had a broken sternum and pelvis.
Since the accident, the Wortinger family has received much support from the community. Several businesses and racers have organized fundraisers for Wortingers.
When they visited him at the hospital and brought him money they raised, Wortinger was overwhelmed.
“I was at a loss for words,” he said. “I broke down in tears. I hadn’t realized I had touched that many people’s lives.”
Back in his Goshen home, Wortinger said he is adjusting to his new lifestyle. His son and daughter, Spencer and Taylor, as well as his dad, have been looking after him. A friend, Angie Mattern, donated a hospital bed and a motorized wheelchair for Mike to use. His family and friends built him a ramp to get in and out of the house.
Wortinger went through two surgeries, one of which was to reconstruct his feet. He must wait three or four months before going through a third surgery to remove the plates and screws from his feet. Then he will have to go through rehabilitation.
“My goal is to get better. That way I can continue to help (Spencer),” said Wortinger, who wants to continue being a part of the racing community.
Though shaken by his father’s accident, Spencer Wortinger got back into his car on Saturday, May 25, to compete. It was no small feat after seeing what his father had gone through.
“I had to crawl in and scare me into doing it again,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘Do I really want to do this right now?’ but then they started waving us out and I grouped in with a few people I knew and just followed them for a few laps, and then it just came back to me. It made me feel like everything was all right.”