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CEDAR RAPIDS — For the second time in less than a year, a driver has died as the result of an accident in competition at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids.
The Gazette confirmed that INEX Legends car racer Joan Feller died Wednesday afternoon from injuries sustained in a last-lap crash during Friday night's main event at Hawkeye Downs. Cars were coming to the checkered flag and finish of the event when a car driven by Sammy Smith spun and was stalled on the track. Feller, who was behind Smith on track, was unable to avoid Smith and hit head-on against his right-front.
Feller was an organ donor, and her family worked closely with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, as well as the organ donor registry to make sure her wishes were fulfilled. An outpouring of support and condolences flowed from the racing and her church community in the wake of the accident, including the establishment of a GoFundMe account in her memory by her niece, Ashley Petefish. As of Wednesday at 6 p.m., the account was up to $4,760 in just less than two days of being active.
Feller was a 1980 graduate of Benton Community High School, and had been involved in racing since 2000. In an unpublished interview with The Gazette before the 2015 racing season, Feller said she has loved racing for a long time and helped on various crews of friends in the sport.
This season was her first behind the wheel. It fulfilled a long-standing dream of being a part of the action on the track, and though she said in the spring the learning curve was steep, she was having fun doing so.
'I just love the sport. I fell in love with it. I saved up three years, got the car and I'm going for it,' Feller said in May. 'It's a learning curve. … I don't think people realize how difficult it is and how much mental energy goes into racing a car around this track.
'I've gotten a lot down that I never thought I'd get down. It's fun. It's fun to race. It's a neat division and very nice people in this division, too.'
She was a devout Christian and had bible verses on all sides of her blue No. 12 Legends car. Members of her pit crew on race weekends were fellow members of her church. Feller was also an avid Joey Gase fan as a member of his fan club and attended several races Gase competed in, including multiple at Kansas Speedway and regularly at Iowa Speedway.
Gase said Tuesday he was devastated and in a state of disbelief when he heard about the accident. His history with organ donation is well-documented, and it was a subject the two talked about at length.
'She definitely believed in it and saw all the good it does for others,' Gase said. 'She told me she was proud of everything I was doing to honor my mom and promote donation. On her Legends car, on the driver's side, she even had a Donate Life 52 sticker on it.
'I'm so very sad to hear (about it), but I'm glad her wishes are being met by being a donor. I just can't believe this has happened.'
Feller worked as a special-education teacher at Wilkins Elementary School in Marion, said Sandie Rohrer, a spokeswoman for the Linn-Mar Community School District.
The district's thoughts and prayers are with Feller's family, and the district is available to support those who know her, Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said in a prepared statement.
Feller was a 'well-respected faculty member,' said Katie Mulholland, the former Linn-Mar superintendent who retired June 30.
Feller's accident comes a 10 ½ months after 68-year-old John Pickart was killed in a Race 'Em and Wreck 'Em event held at the speedway on Sept. 13, 2014. He was killed when the RV he was racing overturned in Turn 4 of the ¼-mile track at Hawkeye Downs.
The track will race as scheduled Friday night, 'with heavy hearts and concern for Joan,' and plans to dedicate the event to her.
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