I looked up and there it was, an Acura Integra pointing straight at me—spun out, stalled right on the exit of a corner. If I had a half second longer I would have remembered to relax, to curl my arms, to prepare for the impact. As it was I just closed my eyes and took the hit, 80 MPH right into to my door.
We were at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for American Endurance Racing’s season finale event. They invited us to compete against Road & Track in our own class and even supplied us with this car. We trained and prepared as best we could, but the bad weather had other things in mind, as it often does.
I wouldn’t feel so bad about the spin, about the crash, if it weren’t for the corner right before it. They call it the Carousel here at Mid-Ohio, a long 180 of a right hander. You spend most of the turn waiting, feeling out the grip at the wheels, being patient.
And I had been patient. Mid-Ohio is notoriously slick in the wet, and I was holding the car as cautiously as I could. Even then I could feel the front tires skipping, skating on the pavement. Other cars, even ones driven by seasoned racers, had been sliding off course and sometimes into wall all morning.
So I knew that grip was almost nonexistent. I reminded myself that I would have to be extremely careful on the upcoming corner. I’d been told that of all the slick corners on the whole slick track—that one was the slickest, the trickiest.
Just as these thoughts were filling up my head, I looped it. Exit of the corner, leading onto the front straight.
I was about to get the car going again when I looked up and saw an Acura perfectly framed by my driver’s side window. And that was it.
The bang in my ears, the knock on my neck, and then the abrupt still thereafter. I looked at the Acura sitting askew right in front of me, the driver shaking his head.
“Well, that’s not good.” I had to say it to remind myself it was all real.
The dull disbelief faded into solemn shame. I sat there quietly, waiting as the other cars ambled past single file between the Acura on the racing line and me bent up against the pit wall. A track worker asked me if I was ok.
The wrecker came and pulled off the Acura, returning for me after another pass from the field. The wrecker crew couldn’t find the tow hook for my car, so they tried to strap in to the door bar. The first quick pull on the tow rope didn’t do anything but tear the door down. Then they remembered they had a tow hook in the wrecker, screwed it in to the front of the car, and then pulled it straight out of the car when they tried to tow me up a little hill.
Now I’ve got more sadness than anything else. It is some shit to completely wreck somebody else’s car.
This stripped, caged Spec E30 BMW is insured by the series itself, so I won’t have to fork over any money to replace it. AER, the series itself, will do that. And I don’t have to work on the car, transferring the rebuilt engine, the rebuilt transmission, and all the other good (expensive) components into a new shell. Andrew of DriveGear Racing, the Spec E30 builder who made it in the first place, will do that.
But that doesn’t make me feel relieved. I know what it’s like to clock in long hours fixing broken cars, and I would very much not want to have to do that kind of wrenching to repair somebody else’s mistake. My mistake. My $10,000 mistake.
The car is toast. The frame is taco’d. Worse, the cage is completely done for. Not surprisingly, we were done for the weekend at AER, a day after a practice and qualifying that left us feeling optimistic and ready to race for hours.
“Jesus,” one of the other racers mumbled to himself, looking over how much the door bars on my car bent in, right up to the edge of where I’d been sitting.
It was those door bars that saved my life. They’re wider than on even any rally car I’ve ridden in, and made out of extra thick steel. Very honestly, if there had been something like a bolt-in cage in the car, or even any weaker construction on the cage, I would have been crippled if not killed. A bolt-in would have ripped right out, and a set of thinner X-bars would have allowed more intrusion towards the area I reserve for my bones and internal organs than I prefer. Andrew built a race car that saved my life. I’m grateful for that.
The driver in the Acura, I might also say, would have died if he hadn’t been wearing a HANS device. He would have snapped his neck, how Dale Earnhardt died.
If anything it’s a testament to both modern racing safety gear and AER themselves. It may be a grassroots series with a relatively thin rule book, but their safety requirements are top notch and all drivers take it seriously.
I also appreciated when those other drivers came over and said they were glad that I was okay. The car gave its life to save mine. Though I don’t totally feel exactly good about that at the moment, I can appreciate it.
And I can sort of appreciate that this sort of thing happens in racing.
I just wish it hadn’t happened to me.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove
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