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It’s a day – Jan. 31, 2010 – veteran NHRA nitro Funny Car driver Justin Schriefer will never, ever forget.

That evening, Schriefer received a phone call which was a parent’s worst nightmare. His daughter, Ericka L. Schriefer, 24, had died in a snowboarding accident at Copper Mountain (Colo.) ski area, 75 miles west of Denver.

“I got a phone call about 5:30 (Central Time) that Sunday,” Schriefer said. “I was at a racer’s swap meet Schaumburg, Ill. I had a 90-mile ride home and it was just horrifying. Ericka was my best friend.”

While Schriefer was driving home, his mind was racing million miles an hour as he was trying to come to grips with the devastating news.

Ericka was found by the ski patrol about 10 a.m. Mountain Time in some trees off the black-rated Formidable Trail. The patrol found her in cardiac arrest, according to the Summit County Coroner’s office.

Schriefer was airlifted to St. Anthony Copper Mountain Clinic, where she died about an hour after she had been located.

The coroner’s office said the official cause of death was head and neck fractures. She was wearing a helmet.

“They figured out from her time getting on the ski lift that the first slope she went down was Formidable Trail,” Schriefer said. “She must have lost control over a jump that was there and landed head first into a tree. Some other skiers found her and they were estimating she had been there about 45 minutes. She ended up passing away and the worst part of everything was she didn’t have any identification on her because she left it in her car. She had her keys to car with her, but there were so many people at the resort and by the time they figured out who she was, I didn’t get a call until 5:30 (Central Time) that evening.”

The thought of Ericka lying unconscious in the snow with no help around, especially bothers Justin.

“I have to take a moment to talk about it because I always have that fear and I think about in my mind that she might have been calling for me, and I wasn’t there for my little girl” Justin said. “You always have that inside you that really eats at you. I was reassured that wasn’t the case because she was unconscious, but it still eats at you.”

Justin still has the equipment Ericka was wearing and the snowboard she had that tragic day stored in a safe at his home.

“She was fully-equipped,” Justin said.  


When Schriefer made it to his home in Grant Park, Ill., the day of Ericka’s fatal accident, he was immediately trying to find a flight to Colorado, but that was impossible.

“A snowstorm had come in and the airports were shut down,” Justin said. “It was horrifying that I couldn’t get out there and the snow wouldn’t left up for a week so I couldn’t get out there and all I wanted to do was hold my baby. Once the weather broke, they wanted to fly her right away from Colorado to Grant Park, so I never even went out to Colorado. It makes me cry right now talking about it again, how I lost my baby girl.”

In one his darkest hours, he did receive support from a fellow NHRA driver out of the blue.

“One night I was sitting upstairs and I didn’t know where to go or where to turn as I was waiting for Ericka to come home on an airplane ride,” Justin said. “I was sitting there, and who calls, but Ron Capps. Stuff like that, you know how much they care. I was sitting there in the worst time of my life and the phone rings and it was Ron Capps. He told me how bad he felt for me and it really meant a lot.”

Justin has two other children, a daughter, Jessica, 31, and a son, Justin Schriefer III, 24.



Justin Schriefer doesn’t mind being an example of what used to be. He doesn’t mind the example of what drag racing in the Chicagoland area used to be, an era when independent, largely self-funded Funny Car teams used to hold their own in the developing Funny Car scene.

Schriefer, of Grant Park, IL., will line up against the titanic multi-car operations this weekend at the K&N Filters Route 66 Nationals, racing under the guidance of blue collar tuner Paul Smith

Schriefer, an operating engineer by trade and the owner of Renzo Excavating Company made his NHRA Funny Car debut at the 2009 Route 66 Nationals driving for Dale Creasy Sr. He went on to qualify at five national events over four limited schedule seasons for Creasy, including at his home track in 2010 and 2011. At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Creasy decided he was finished and folded the team. Schriefer decided he was not finished and vowed to continue. 

"I have a passion for racing funny car and I credit Dale for a lot of that." Schriefer said.
Schriefer then drove Paul Richards car at select races in 2013 and 2014. 

Schriefer later realized his dream when he formed his own operation in 2015. With support from Westside Tractor Sales, Hogswipe Detailer, Local 150 Operating Engineers, and several others, he and his fiancé Rebecca Norman ran two races last season. 

"We were learning,” Schriefer explained. “Some things didn't go as planned, but we proved to ourselves we could do this."

In addition to this weekend in Joliet, Schriefer plans to make NHRA national event stops in Indianapolis and St. Louis. 

"We always race to honor my biggest supporter, my late daughter Ericka. I made a promise to her that I'd bring home a Wally for her someday." Schriefer said. "And I plan on keeping that promise, regardless of the odds." - Bill Swanson

Ericka made the trip to Copper Mountain with the intention of trying out a snowboard she had just bought.

“I talked to her that Wednesday about her snowboard and that Saturday (Jan. 30) she told she was going to go with some of her friends to try it out,” Schriefer said. “Then Saturday night, both the girls she was going to go with had something come up at the last minute and they couldn’t go. She was so pumped up about trying this new snowboard out she went on her own to Copper Mountain, which I didn’t know.”

Schriefer also learned Ericka was talking to his mom, Amelia Schriefer, via cellphone as Ericka was driving to Copper Mountain.

“My mom and Ericka were really close and my mom talked to for two hours as she drove over to the ski resort from Fort Collins where she was living,” Justin said. “My mom kept trying to talk Ericka into going home, but Ericka was a daredevil. She had a lot of spunk in her and she was very independent. My mom lost communication with her as she drove through (Eisenhower Tunnel) on the way to the ski resort. My mom kept trying to call her back and she never did get a hold of her.”

At the time of her death, Ericka was working at a mobile nuclear medical facility in Fort Collins, a place she had been for four months.

“She had a college degree in nuclear medicine and the people she worked for loved her and thought of her as a daughter,” Schriefer said. “My daughter was on top of the world.”

Justin acknowledged, he kept replaying the events of Jan. 31, 2010 in his mind for months.

“For two years there, it was really bad,” he said. “I couldn’t focus on work. I tried to do the racing thing to keep my mind occupied. Her friends and the people in the racing community, and my family are the people who helped me get through it. Without that type of support, I don’t know how I would’ve made it through it. The only peace I can get out of it is she did so many good things and put a mark on the Earth before she left and people loved her.”


Getting on with life has been a slow process for Justin, but he said things have been better day by day.

“I have a wonderful fiancée, Rebecca Norman, and a great family,” he said. “I was going out to my daughter’s grave every night and talking to her all the time and telling her how much I love her and miss her. Now, it’s about four nights a week I go out there. Since she passed away, I have candles burning for her seven days a week and I change them all the time. I find peace by going out by her, because her memorial has her picture on it, and I just pray. I strongly believe in God and he’s here for everybody and I know he’s taking good care of my baby. I believe God needed Ericka for a special reason, but I sure miss her, I know that.”

Justin gives out a memorial scholarship, in Ericka's name every year at Grant Park High School.

Schriefer also continues to campaign his family-owned Funny Car in NHRA – with one goal in mind. He will be competing at the K&N Filters Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago July 7-10.

“I want to bring home a Wally for Ericka,” said Schriefer, who has progressed from bracket racing to the Funny Car ranks in 2005. “It would be unbelievable if I could do that, and I’m going to win a Wally, not only for her, but for all the people, family and friends, who have helped me through the years. I love doing this. It’s the most incredible feeling to climb in a fuel car. Jack Beckman always been super supportive of me and been a mentor for me and (John) Force brought me up to his car one time when he won a Wally. There’s so much good in all these big teams, they’re all there for you and so supportive. You’re in a race community and they are all there for you in some way.

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