Videographer kicked out of Speedway

Kevin Passon

The disqualification of a driver at the Shawano Speedway on July 22 kicked off a series of events that led to the dismissal of a longtime videographer from the racetrack.

Driver Johnny Whitman was cited for a weight infraction following his win in the IMCA Modified feature race, which caused him to be disqualified. Instead, the prize money went to second-place finisher Mike Wedelstadt.

The disqualification led to videographer Mike Thorne to question the interpretation of the rules during one of his videos.

Thorne operates Mike’s Video. He records and uploads the races to social media on a near-volunteer basis, something he has done for more than a dozen years.

“I guess when you have something to say, you should just keep it to yourself,” Thorne said later in a social media post. “This is how they fix their drama that they create. It’s sad, because I really thought they might listen and actually want to talk.”

A few days after the incident, Thorne received a letter from the Shawano Area Agricultural Society, which operates the Shawano County Fairgrounds and Shawano Speedway.

In addition to rescinding Thorne’s lifetime membership, the society’s executive board returned his $300 membership fee.

“Some of your actions lately have been determined to be detrimental to the Shawano Area Agricultural Society,” according to the letter. “We are requesting that you cease video taping at the Shawano Speedway. It is very detrimental to the organization when videos are shown that do not have correct information or things are said that are just assumptions.

“Also, due to your current actions, the Shawano Area Agricultural Society has determined that your presence is not welcomed at the Shawano Speedway.”

Thorne repeatedly pointed out on social media he did not shoot the video at the scales and only commented on it. He also said he was never approached by the society or any board member to discuss the matter.

“I was never invited to a meeting with the executive board to discuss anything,” he said. “I would have gladly done that and expressed why I said what I did, which in all essence were questions from race fans and drivers. Couldn’t even do it face to face.”

Social media was full of comments, numbering more than 1,000, about Thorne’s banishment from the track. The videographer noted that he had more than 250 phone messages as well.

Several people expressed disappointment and anger with the Speedway. Brad Luepke, marketing and promotions director for the Shawano County Fairgrounds and Shawano Speedway, did not return a phone call seeking comment and clarification. Messages sent through the group’s Facebook page also went unanswered.

However, the Shawano Speedway Facebook did include this partial post: “The Shawano Area Agricultural Society will not tolerate individuals, especially those who are employed by or have media credentials, representing or promoting themselves that do not have the best interest of the organization in mind.”

Thorne said he doesn’t regret any questions he raised.

“I thought Johnny Whitman got screwed,” he said. “I still believe he did, because nobody has given me any information that he didn’t.”

Thorne said he was OK with being the sacrificial lamb, as long as the issues he raised get addressed.

“Getting rid of me doesn’t cover (the problems) up. They’re still there,” he said. “I never expected that it would come to this point that I would be kicked out of a track that I came to as a kid, grew into as an adult and had one of the best jobs you could ask for.

“But it’s OK. If this all opens eyes to some of the issues, then being kicked out was worth it. You can replace me, but you can’t replace the track.”