I’ll be honest, I was genuinely scared to be the navigator for Bill Petrow’s Broken Motorsports Nissan 240SX, racing in the Mount Washington Hill Climb. And then my worst fear was realized. Well, not my worst fear. Nobody died. But we did do a 360 spin off of the mountain.
It was the second day of practice, going up only the bottom half of the tallest mountain in the northeast, Mt. Washington in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We were only about five or six corners into our run when I heard us start spinning tire.
At first we thought we had hit something in the road, or slid over some loose dirt. As it turned out, all five wheel studs on the inside rear wheel had sheared off.
That lit up the outside wheel, and sent us into something of a rail slide with the edge of the road. We would have kept sliding into the inside ditch if we hadn’t clipped that boulder.
We spun a full 360 degrees, nosed into the dirt and rolled. I remember looking out the window and seeing a trunk-sized boulder rolling down the road next to us, which I thought was pretty cool.
I didn’t realize that at the time Bill and I were sideways in the air and the boulder was actually Indiana Jones-ing us down the mountain. If it hadn’t stopped a few rolls up the hill from us, it’d have gone right into my side’s open window, which would have been a very grim way to go.
As it was, Bill and I were completely ok.
Part of it was luck; we could have spun 50 feet sooner and hit a tree, we could have spun 50 feet later and hit a tree. We could have lost the wheel studs the next day and gone flying off the mountain at one if its many thousand-foot dropoffs, where there’s nothing between you and a long, long, long way down.
The other part of it was that Bill had built a seriously strong roll cage, stronger than the rulebook even requires. He also had top quality Racetech seats with a halo to keep your head from bouncing around. We both were belted in with racing harnesses and had HANS devices on.
The cage in the car was so strong, actually, that the car was deemed fit to race again. All we had to do was pull the trunk sheet metal straight, replace the dented gas tank and replace the broken suspension parts.
The team was wrenching on the car until two in the morning and was only approved by tech inspection the morning of the race, but we went back out the next day and ended up on the podium, finishing second in class.
The crash reminded me that there is no such thing as a cheap race car; either you invest in safety gear strong enough to survive the worst crashes or you don’t go out there. At least, I’m not going out without good gear and equipment, no matter how cheap or shitty the rest of the car is.