BRASELTON — With a mixture of tears and laughter, the Road Atlanta racing family remembered their “Turn 7 Girl,” Hazel Harrell, in a memorial service Saturday at the same location where Harrell died in an accident three weeks ago.
Harrell, 60, of Gainesville died June 3 when she was attempting to cross the track at Turn 7 to help an injured motorcyclist during an event she was working for the Western Eastern Racing Association’s Motorcycle Roadracing.
Harrell was struck by a another rider in the competition. She had worked events at Road Atlanta for about 20 years and was known for her work at the track’s Turn 7.
More than 300 people attended the service and watched as Harrell’s son, James, and daughter, DeeDee Harrell Shelton, spread a portion of their mother’s ashes on the grass next to the track at Turn 7.
“It was her wish; she wanted some of (the ashes) left here at her second home,” Shelton said. “We spread some on the grass, so she’ll always be here. It’s amazing how many people she touched from all over the place. I’ve never seen anything this big before.”
James Harrell said he was not surprised by the crowd.
“I’m not going to lie to you; I was actually expecting this many people here,” he said. “It is very overwhelming. It means the world to me and my sister to know that Mama touched, not just us and our family, but basically everybody you see here, she’s had something to do with them at one point or another.”
He was on Facebook Live during the service providing video for those who could not get to Road Atlanta on Saturday.
“All of her other workers and riders were somewhere else; they could not be here,” Harrell said. “That was the easiest way for everybody to be here because everybody wanted to be here. She spent more time with everybody that is here than she did with me and my sister. We are her blood family, but this is her family also. I wouldn’t have left no one out at all.”
A stone marker was set up as a permanent memorial to Harrell at Turn 7 and most of the attendees Saturday were wearing a green sticker that said “Turn 7 Girl.”
Many of those at the service wore purple shirts, hats or ribbons — Hazel’s favorite color — in her memory. People were also writing messages on purple helium balloons and then letting them go into the sky.
“She loved purple,” said her friend and coworker, Sandy Lewis, who was with Harrell on Turn 7 June 3. “She was one loved lady. It has been tough. It has taken three of us do her job.”
Lewis let her balloon go about a half hour before the service started.
“I wrote on the balloon that Hazel was my co-worker and my friend and I miss her and I love her,” Lewis said.
Gary Cummings, Road Atlanta manager for event operations, facilities and maintenance, was not at the service, but gave written words to Ken Grogan, head of security at the track, to read on his behalf.
“There are those who run from danger and there are those who run to danger,” Cummings wrote. “Hazel was running to try to protect a life when she lost hers. Her ultimate sacrifice through this tragic accident shows us how she lived her life.”
Her granddaughter, Shelby Pizano, called the woman she knew as Nana, “one of the strongest, most independent woman I have known.”
“You helped our family stay together,” she said. “You were like the glue that held us together.”
Another granddaughter, Shayla Harrell, remembered her smile.
“Nana is always with us; no matter where we are, our Turn 7 Girl will always be with us,” she said. “She was always there to cheer us up with that big bright smile of hers. I swear that smile lit up the whole world. She was nice, but don’t get me wrong, she could snap on you in a heartbeat.”
Tony Pentecost, a race chaplain for 25 years, admitted the service was difficult for him.
“I would rather be anywhere than Road Atlanta today,” he told the crowd. “But, I know where she is today. She is in heaven.”
He remembered Harrell as a unique person who had a “raceroom” that contained all things related to the sport.
“She’s been putting stuff in that room for years,” Pentecost said. “If it involved racing, it was in that room.”
He encouraged those at the service to remember and celebrate their friend.
“I’ve seen some faces that look really somber,” Pentecost said. “Today is a day for tears; today is a day for laughter. Share tears, laugh laughs, share memories. That’s what we have left. We are all Hazel’s, friends — better word, family. Hazel loved this place, but she loved us more.”
He challenged the group to find someone after the service they didn’t know and share a memory of Hazel Harrell.