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Greg Hodnett: Sprint car racer killed on Newberry Twp. track a 'true professional'

Greg Hodnett, the sprint car racer from Jackson Township who died during a race Thursday night at BAPS Motor Speedway, enjoyed great success over three decades in the sport.

But to some who were close to him, he was more than a racer — he was a selfless friend.

Greg Hodnett

“He was just a really, really good guy, an excellent guy — they don’t come much nicer than him,” Nikki Vandersloot said.

Vandersloot, of Dover, knew Hodnett and his wife for several years before Hodnett's fatal crash Thursday, Sept. 20, at the Newberry Township race track.

The York County Coroner's Office said Hodnett lost control of the vehicle and hit a wall at high speed. The 49-year-old died on impact.

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On Friday, Sept. 21, Vandersloot spoke of a friendship that started several years ago and even extended to her father, Dallastown resident Joe Coria.

Sprint car driver Greg Hodnett

'Down-to-earth': Vandersloot said she met Hodnett and his wife, Sherry, while helping them out when she worked at a Verizon Wireless store.

Already a fan of Hodnett's, Vandersloot formed a friendship with the couple over the years since. 

“These past couple years we kind of got really a lot closer,” she said.

Vandersloot recalled recently that Hodnett and his wife were letting a family stay with them while that family was moving. Vandersloot called the Hodnetts "very giving people."

"He was a wonderful guy — very kind, very down-to-earth," she said. 

She said Hodnett played drums and worked out a lot with his wife. Coria, a former music teacher, said he recently gave his drum set to Hodnett after a heart attack left him unable to play.

He said in the past year, any time he would talk to Hodnett, the two would discuss other things, such as music, instead of racing.

"I figured he gets enough of that," he said.

Coria said it went from a fan relationship to a friendship. He recalled that when he was hospitalized last year Hodnett was one of the first to call him and check in.

"‘That really meant a lot to me and to my dad," Vandersloot said.

Racing: York Dispatch racing correspondent Bryan Householder said Hodnett had more than 250 wins in his career. Hodnett's website shows he had been racing since the mid-1980s.

Householder said Hodnett moved to Pennsylvania from Memphis, Tennessee, in the late 1990s. He said Hodnett was a frequent winner and a multi-time champion, who at the time of his death was leading in points at Williams Grove Speedway and overall in central Pennsylvania.

“He was an excellent race car driver and a true professional," Vandersloot said. 

“Greg was top dog, he was one of the best," Coria agreed.

Vandersloot said Hodnett was a safe driver who took risks but did it safely. She said he never wanted to injure anybody. 

Hodnett let Coria and Vandersloot get involved with his racing team, Heffner Racing.

“He just opened up his crew to us, and they all treated us very nice,” Coria said.

He said they were lucky enough to see Hodnett win at Williams Grove while with the team. 

When Coria had to stop being involved with the team because of the hot weather, he recalled Hodnett saying Coria could come back whenever he was ready. 

Coria said Hodnett was a good person on and off the track.

"Greg was one of those guys who never had a bad thing to say about anybody, no matter what happened," he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Vandersloot, who said Hodnett was great to his fans and always willing to sign autographs. 

Crash: The county coroner's office said Hodnett died during a race at 9:10 p.m. Thursday.

Officials said he lost control of his vehicle in turn one of the race, causing him to crash into a wall at high speed. An autopsy Saturday showed that he died of multiple blunt-force trauma, and the manner of death was accidental, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Vandersloot said she wasn't at the track Thursday night, but she heard about the crash. She said she was freaking out, trying to make sure it wasn't Hodnett. 

Vandersloot said she saw a local news station report that the coroner had been called to the track.

"I knew, I knew that he had passed — and I lost it," she said.

Coria said he and his wife were planning on going to Wildwood, New Jersey, for the weekend. After the crash, they canceled their trip.

“This hit us pretty hard last night," he said Friday.

He said he wants to stay close and help out Hodnett's family if he can. Vandersloot said she's reached out to the family and will help any way she can.

Reaction: BAPS Speedway posted on their website that all events at the speedway were canceled Friday through Sunday, Sept. 23. 

"It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we announce the passing of Greg Hodnett at BAPS Motor Speedway during Thursday night's event. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends, crews, and sponsors," the post reads in part.

World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series said in a post on its website that Hodnett was one of the most popular Keystone State drivers. He was their Rookie of the Year in 1993, according to the post.

"To me, Greg represented the true gentleman competitor in the pit area," CEO Brian Carter said in the post.

The following post appeared on Hodnett's website Friday morning: 

"Please keep Sherry, the entire Hodnett family, and the Heffner racing team in your thoughts and prayers. Greg was a professional in every sense of the word, and will be desperately missed!"

Prior crash: Three years ago another driver died in a crash on the same track, according to York Dispatch records.

Carnie Fryfogle, 66, of Manchester, Maryland, died Aug. 1, 2015, while finishing the last lap of his race at the speedway, which was then named Susquehanna Speedway.

He lost control and wrecked his car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.