Texas Motor Speedway Employees Help Paint A Brighter Future For West, Texas Residents

Seventeen Texas Motor Speedway employees made the journey 90 miles south on Interstate 35W Tuesday to help residents of West, Texas, with their ongoing rebuilding process from April’s fertilizer explosion that devastated the small community as part of its “Speeding to Help” community outreach program.


STH West Texas Motor Speedway employees volunteered their time and services to the West Long-Term Recovery Center in helping longtime West residents Martha and Andrew Hlavenka, who lived just blocks away from the center of the explosion, move closer to returning to their home. The contingent painted the entire exterior of their home, removed dead and fallen tree limbs and added a sentimental finishing touch to the visit by purchasing and installing a new mailbox. The group also made another visit in town and assisted a fellow West resident with the removal of additional dead and fallen tree limbs.


“It’s wonderful, I don’t know what we would do without it (their home),” said Martha, an 88-year-old who treated the speedway employees to the town’s famous kolaches for their volunteer help. “We worry about the inside and the outside too, but now we got the outside done so we’re really happy now.”


The explosion on the evening of April 17 that rocked the community with a population of roughly 2,800 that is situated 15 miles north of Waco has left a lasting mark that can be seen throughout the town. Homemade signs line the streets asking for prayers and at the center of the blast, a debris field still stands as a constant reminder of the tragedy that killed 15, injured 200 and damaged numerous homes in its wake of destruction.


West Sign Tractors and fertilizer vehicles are overturned, huge metal panels from the fertilizer silos are scattered and cars are not even recognizable due to the extensive damage.


The Hlavenkas traditionally sit on the patio to enjoy the Texas evenings, but did not do so that fateful night. The windows also were open, preventing them from serious injury and saving the home. The homes of her relatives that live next door and across the street were not as fortunate, as one home had to be demolished and the other is inhabitable and may have the same fate. Fortunately, they did not sustain any serious injuries either.


“I don’t think anyone knows what it was like exactly because it happened so fast,” said Martha, who did have a nephew perish who responded immediately to the scene to assist a fellow homeowner in saving their horses. “The house was shaking and you felt like you couldn’t breathe. All at once, it just kind of popped everything open. Just like a bomb. You won’t ever forget it.”


West received promising news just last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) overturned its initial decision and has approved public assistance for the community. The ruling paves the way for residents to receive federal aid to continue the rebuilding process.


Despite FEMA’s ruling, volunteers still are needed to help the community’s restoration efforts. Individuals or groups wanting to help make a difference can contact the West Long-Term Recovery Project by calling (254) 826-7550 or by visiting www.westltr.org.  


Texas Motor Speedway’s annual “Speeding to Help” program has had an emphasis this year in helping towns rebuild following disasters. Along with the work in West, last week Texas Motor Speedway employees traveled to Granbury to assist the United Methodist Committee on Relief rebuild the home for Alfonso and Amanda Hernandez. The Hernandez home was devastated after an EF-4 tornado ripped through their Rancho Brazos community.


The program also has helped those in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex as staffers kicked off “Speeding to Help” on July 24 by assisting Mission Arlington with pickups and deliveries of various household items and furniture for the less fortunate. The program concludes next Friday with a visit to the Humane Society of North Texas, where volunteers will assist the staff in preparation of the animals for adoption by bathing, grooming and exercising those currently in the shelter.