Monday, May 18, 2015

A Crash in Huntsville

Racing is dangerous; always has been and always will be. It's also a spectacle of color, sound, and competition and is something I've been drawn to since the age of two and currently I am the chief starter for two different series and this past weekend I was working the USAC .25 Generation Next series race in Huntsville, Alabama. This was our fourth national event of the year and is my sixth season as being the starter and nothing could have prepared me for what happened on Saturday.

One of the things I love about the USAC .25 series is the safety. I've seen some of the wildest flips and the cars are tipped back over and the driver remains in the race. The rules and construction of the cars have made the safety for the drivers extremely high. However, things can still happen and as the field came to green for the first heat race on Saturday there was some minor contact and two cars headed towards the tire wall, which is rather normal, but as they got to the wall one car shot skywards.

I didn't believe what I was seeing. I don't want to say flips are expected, but they happen and 99.9% of the time are benign and the car remains in the race. In this instance though time slowed down and the car kept going up and it almost went over the eight foot high fence and then I saw my friend and coworker for six years and all time froze.

The next tenths of a second were an eternity as I could see Kyle running. "Run!" my brain screamed but he was only able to take two steps before gravity did its thing and the front of the car caught Kyle on the head and both he and the car disappeared from my view and then there was silence. There may have been noise, but seeing this was shock inducing. I think I displayed the red flag and the silence was broken when I screamed, "MEDIC!" as they were stationed right behind me.

The worst case scenarios began to creep through my mind. I couldn't see Kyle at all because the wall blocked my view and when the first person got to him the motions for the medics brought about a sense that the worst case was going to be realized.

More and more people got to him and the frantic pointing of the people continued to show the seriousness of this incident. I stayed in the stand because I didn't want to know. I thought back to my incident in Nashville three years ago and people reacted the same way so I was hoping that this was the same, but then again I was just thrown about in a stand and Kyle literally had a car land on him.

About five minutes went by and there was still a big huddle of people around Kyle and as they were righting the car I slowly walked over and as I got to the wall and peered over my heart finally started beating properly again because I could see that he was awake, in obvious amounts of pain, but was responding to those around. At that moment the shock disappeared and I went back into flagger mode and we started clearing out people that just didn't need to see what was going on.

The ambulance came and it wasn't until they left that the sense of shock came back. I've been flagging for 20 years and have seen a lot of things but never something like this. We are about as safety conscious as it comes and you can prepare for everything but still the unexpected can and will occur. For the drivers in the incident they were fine, as once again the safety of these cars were shown, but concern still remained for my friend.

We got back to racing but it just didn't seem real. My attention was on the track under green but between heats I still played back trying to figure out how a car went that high. I never did figure it out and about six races later on a start there was an incident that found it's way to the wall right at the flagstand which knocked me out of it and onto the ground. The first thing I said was, "you've got to be kidding me!" as it was obviously not a good day to be an official. I took a break as my shoulder was throbbing, and my shin was all different shades of colors it's typically not, but for some reason or another that incident put me back into a calm, cool, and collected mode as if Kyle's incident never occurred.

Kyle returned to the track just five hours later and I didn't see him right away but those that saw him described him as a "mummy" with a head bandage and other bandages from scrapes. Also, his foot was in a boot from a rather nasty break of some bones. I'd see him once the day's races were halted due to a flash downpour (a fitting way to end the day the way it went) and he was in obvious amounts of pain.

Back at the hotel I did all that I could to make sure he was comfortable as I was rooming with him and despite all the scrapes and trauma he was in rather good spirits keeping his sharp wit and still making me laugh. His nickname is "muscles" and it was obvious why because not many people would take a hit like that and walk out of the hospital just four hours later.

It wasn't until the next morning that I once again felt that shock of when it happened, but it wasn't just a sense of that, but in life in general. I started by saying racing is dangerous, but to be honest life is dangerous as shown by my possible tornado experience 10 days ago. It doesn't matter if one is at a race track because one is passionate about the sport, or crossing a street in a city, or simply walking down a supermarket aisle. Life is dangerous, things happen, we can prepare for everything and still the unexplained fluke can occur. This is where, at least myself, thinks about the fact that with all this being so it is of the utmost importance to cherish everything now because in the blink of an eye things can change, things can fall, and the unexpected can occur. Thankfully, Kyle is going to be okay and it may be a few weeks, or a month, before he's back to prime shape, but for a moment, I'm sure, all that saw that experienced the same moment of shock I did. So to Kyle, whom I sure will read this, get well soon!

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