“Like at Talladega”: Vargas and Bleekemolen recall the “Big One”

The 2024 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season kicked off with a lot of drama and action at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. EuroNASCAR PRO Round 2 had to be red-flagged due to a NASCAR-style “Big One” on lap 1 of the race. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen made contact with Vittorio Ghirelli and unintentionally caused a chain reaction that involved ten cars, wrecking five of them out of the race. US NASCAR star Ryan Vargas was also involved in the crash but continued to complete a phenomenal comeback at the 4.005 kilometer long track.

Vargas’ #30 3F Racing Chevrolet suffered damage on the front and the American had to come to the pits to get rid of the front bumper of his car. He then continued in a “Modified-style” car to climb up to twelfth overall and third in the Junior Trophy ranks for drivers aged 25 and under. The Californian was just a passenger when the cars in front of him stacked up, but he maximized what he could get in the shortened 17-lap race.

“I thought I was at Talladega for a minute,” recalled Vargas of the incident. “The whole field was flying apart. It looked like the Big One and it really was one. I was in the middle of it, had a good start and was in the pack and once they started flying apart I was just ricocheting off from everybody. At the end of the day we look like a Modified car, which is fitting since the series is sponsored by Whelen and they sponsored the Whelen Modified Tour in the United States. I’m glad everyone’s okay, Sebastiaan took a big hit and it was scary to see him go back into the traffic.”

Bleekemolen was judged responsible for the incident by race control and received a heavy penalty for the crash, also in consideration of it happening at the start of the race. Per EuroNASCAR’s rule book, if a driver causes an incident during the start and restart procedures, the penalty will be harsher in order to tutelage the safety of the competitors in a delicate moment. Bleekemolen was disqualified from the race and will get a ten-place grid penalty in the NASCAR GP Italy at Vallelunga.

“I think the reason that I spun was really unlucky, especially after seeing the video from Vittorio’s car,” noted Bleekemolen. “Dauenhauer was coming to the left and I also was steering slightly to the left where Vittorio was driving. My left rear wheel touched his left front wheel very lightly, but with big consequences. Because of the contact the car jumped 30-40 cm high and turned to the left and I couldn’t control the car anymore. It went so fast, maybe within half a second…”

Most importantly: despite the heavy impacts, all drivers were able to leave the cars on their own power. The powerful EuroNASCAR cars proved again to be very safe for the drivers involved in the Big One. At the end of the 17-lap race, Liam Hezemans was the winner after passing Saturday’s victor Vittorio Ghirelli on lap 7. The Dutchman had already made a visit to Valencia’s Victory Lane in 2023.

The next stop of the 2024 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series is the Autodromo di Vallelunga in Italy on May 18-19. The race track close to Rome will host four races – two in each EuroNASCAR championship. Qualifying and all races will be broadcast live on EuroNASCAR’s YouTube channel and numerous TV channels from all around the world.