When I arrived in Atlanta I did so with something like food poisoning, missing the first day of Testing. I was miserable in bed (and running to the bathroom) with the heat blasting. It wasn’t the ideal start to the weekend. I figured at that point we were off to a rough start, but feeling well enough to practice on day 2 things were looking up. We were quick, and getting quicker. One of the most important things you can do when facing averse conditions is to sack up and get it done. This is one thing I am good at. So we continued getting quicker and quicker. My sector times were very good, and we were strong in all the right places. With good coaching (Jim and Justin!) and data we really picked up and despite missing the first day of testing we were really strong and really optimistic.
We qualified 5th for race 1, a great spot to start from. The rain was coming down so I was really excited, having missed my chance at a rain race in Road America with a mechanical failure on the parade lap, I felt vindication coming. I love the rain, and I was super confident.
The race began and immediately I went into feel-it-out mode. We were quick and sitting easily in the top 5. I was conserving and just testing out what we had and watching the guys in front to see what they did, and I felt that in most places, I had considerably more. At the start of a race, this is a great feeling. I made a mistake, and did a quick 360 coming out of turn 10b, but gathered it up and only lost a couple spots. The benefit of making a mistake at the slow part of a track as that it’s effects are minimized, since everyone is already going slow, like a hairpin turn. Turn 10 is like this so we recovered in 11th. With the strength and speed we had in the rain, 4 laps later I was already back to 8th place I believe, and had chased down a group of 4 cars, the second group with the top 4 gapped out ahead of them a little bit. I was pretty happy, we had plenty of time left, the car was great and my speed was very good in the rain.
Unfortunately, this is where the story comes to an unexpected and painful end. Running nose to tail at the rear of the group, one of the cars clipped the exit curbing of turn 12 and did a slow half spin back across the front straight away. Because of the sightlines when you’re packed that tight, when he rolled back across the track I had no idea someone was spinning in front of me, let alone he was backing across right into our line. The car ahead of me hit him in the passenger door, deflecting him toward the concrete pit wall on the outside of turn 12. I, in turn hit him full on in the passenger door, and since he was angled toward the wall already it deflected me toward the wall at an even sharper angle. We hit VERY hard, but it was hitting the concrete wall where everything goes a little hazy for a while. I remember knowing I was going to hit the wall, and hard, and then…
I was sitting in the grass with cars going by on the front stretch. Something inside the car was smoking. I had hit the wall so hard the fire bottle had gone off by itself. At this time I talked on the radio to the crew guys, but I remember very little of that. I think I told them that I was going to need some medical attention. Before you know it, medical staff are pulling me out of the car on a backboard with my head and neck immobilized. My lower back began to hurt not long after, and badly. My head hurt. I was seeing pinwheels of color in my left eye. In the ER we found out the cause of the back pain – a herniated disc in my lower back. The pain from this is ongoing as I write this, and I am disheartened. I have never been injured in a race car before, in 21 years. We all know the risks and accept them, but the ongoing pain and resulting restrictions have been maddening. Fortunately for me, a good team of doctors are on it, and, with some time, I will be combat ready again. It’s been a hard 5 weeks, and I have 3 or so more to go before we really know what we are dealing with in terms of long term effects, but my head is high.
It’s given me some time to reflect on the important things in life, and also to work on my writing again. For that I am thankful.
Thank you all for your kind words and encouragement and support since the wreck. It was a hard one, and each and every outreach of support has helped and meant so much to me.
Thank you all, and see you at the track again soon.