Monday, May 7, 2012

Days of Thunder in San Bernadino

For those new to my blog, or for those that haven't read my book Finding Kansas, auto racing has always been a big love in my life. I always wanted to be a race car driver and that's the only thing I ever considered doing while growing up. It wasn't to be though but I still am active as a flagman which is what I was doing this past weekend in San Bernadino. Usually I have blogged about events that happened at the track, but this week's story takes place after Friday's practice as we went to an indoor kart track.

From the moment I heard we were doing this I was absolutely beside myself in anticipation as two of the other people have raced in the past. I may not seem like it, but I am a highly competitive person when it comes to anything regarding motorsport.

When we got to the track we were told there was going to be a wait, but nonetheless we signed up for two races. After a long wait it was our turn and the five of us with the USAC crew were going to be joined by five others. This excited me because I love a busy track, I love having to calculate passes and yes, I know this is just an indoor kart track, but when a racer hasn't raced in a long time this little experience becomes a battle of epic proportions.

I usually say that when a driver puts his or her helmet on the brain turns off. I was a great example of this because every ounce of common sense I had that was telling me, "Aaron, you still have that injured rib from that event in Nashville so karting probably isn't the best idea." Yeah, that didn't matter because this track was technical and there would be 10 karts on a track that would see sub 30 second lap times. Fun? This was going to be great.

Right away out of the pits when we started I made some fantastic passes. We were also told that, "while overly aggressive bumping is frowned upon we understand that you are racers so we will let a little bumping go." I have never heard that in one of these places, but since the karts had bumpers all the way around wheel-to-wheel contact isn't possible. With that being so I did a little pushing and bumping to the people I was with in this first race.

Lap after lap went by in the 10 minute race and there was a scoreboard outside turn one that I had my eye on. I wasn't looking for my name Aaron though as we all went in with nicknames and someone, perhaps Kyle, had the idea for us to use names from Mario Kart. Beforehand we joked about red shells and banana peels but in the end I somehow got the name "Bowser." So, lap after lap, I could see I was trailing Yoshi on the charts and then, with four minutes to go, I took P1.

With two minutes to go I caught Kyle who had caught another driver (one of the random drivers) in a hairpin. Kyle went to the inside and I got the 'wise' idea to make it three wide on the inside. Kyle had none of it and gave me no room as I was essentially on a line that the only way I was going to make the turn was to bounce of the two karts to my outside, so I jammed the brakes, Kyle turned in, and wedged me into the tires. I became stuck and Kyle got his wish to "put me into the wall."

I was rather ashamed of this event and a worker had to come and push me back, but once clear I went back on the gas and the next lap I set the quickest time of all my laps. The next lap was the white flag (one lap to go) and I got a fast driver who was behind a slower driver. My goal was to pass both drivers for the sole purpose of passing them. It didn't mean anything, but remember that helmet/brain thing? I could tell that the driver leading this three kart train was all over the place, but I was going to use that to my advantage because I've always been good at passing. Well, coming out of the spot that I was wedged into the wall there was contact and a spin by both karts and I thought I was clear but the kart in front over corrected right into my path and a sizable collision occurred. At first I was just annoyed, but then pain crept up from my left side as I took a nice shot into the ribs. Yes, as it happened, the area I injured in Nashville.

After the session I was in some discomfort and it was noticed and I think Rob told a worker that I was, "Racing with a broken rib." to which he responded, "Dude, that's crazy! Why would you do that?" That was a very good question, but it went in one ear and out the other as in another hour we had another race to do!

The next race, an hour later, started out amazing! There were now 11 cars on track and the speed differential between us fast guys and the slow one was 9 seconds. The first time we came up to lap the slower karts I could tell that this had the makings to be a dangerous situation, but I didn't care because I was having the most fun I've had in a long time.

Yes, the fun level I was having was the most fun I've had, since, well, perhaps the last time I raced in a real race. The competitive juices were flowing as I was engaged in a three way battle with plenty of bumping, but all the leaning on each other and pushing was as respectful as it comes.

About four minutes in, and the passing still going strong, we once again were going to catch an extremely slow driver. The kart in front of the battle I was in went for a pass at the same time I was in the midst of trying to fend off an inside pass. This was in the fastest section of the track which was a flat out righthander into a slight lift of a lefthander. Coming out of the right hander our lead kart went to the left of the slow kart and at this point I had many alarms go off in my mind as I knew, knew, that the slow kart was going to panic and do something wrong. However, I was side-by-side myself and it had been years since I was in a battle like this. Sure, I do iRacing but nothing compares to going side-by-side in the heat of a race like this. With that being so, had I lifted I would not have had the advantage on the kart passing me in the next corner.

My thoughts of the slow driver doing something wrong came true as when she saw the kart to her left she instantly turned right. What was right? A jagged wall. She was about 1.5-2 kart lengths in front and when she hit this wall her kart all but stopped forward progress and was kicked back into the track, sideways, at a complete stop. With a kart to my left I had nowhere to go, and really no time to react, and I hit her at full speed. The speed at this part of the track might be only around 30, but nonetheless my head was flung into the steering wheel. The hits kept on coming as when I came to a stop a kart behind me t-boned my kart and I coasted to a stop up against the left wall.

I thought I was okay, but when I tried to breathe there was nothing there and at that point in time my ribs on both side began to ache. I couldn't believe that one could hit that hard on a track like this and later the manager said that, "I think this, or maybe one other wreck, but either this wreck you were in or that one is the hardest wreck that has ever happened here. I saw your head go forward and knew that this was bad."

The staff said they called for medical attention and kept telling me to not move. I was fine with not moving because what I thought was going to be a simple aggravation of that previous rib injury was turning out to be hurting all over. And then I realized that where I was hurting was where the belts were.

The paramedics arrived and they wanted to take me and I was having a pounding headache and I knew that my injuries were simply bruises and strains, but I kept getting the "don't move treatment" but eventually I was told that "I had a choice" and when I learned this we went back to the hotel and  the night was long as sleeping wasn't the easiest of things but the next day I was in the flagstand for the USAC Generation Next tour and yes, there was pain, but adrenaline is a great pain killer and the races went well and now I'm in Phoenix for a couple days before my presentation in Tucson on May 9th.

Despite the crash I had an amazing time. It was such a thrill to be back in something with a motor racing side-by-side. I always said that it wasn't the speed I enjoy, but the racing inches apart going into a corner and coming out the other side. For the amount of time I was on track it was great time and I had forgotten just how much fun it is to race. I guess I could say that my passion for motorsports was rekindled as it was the time of my year. So, if at some other race in the future I'm told that we're going kart racing afterwards I won't have any hesitation in saying, "Oh yes!"

1 comment:

  1. Do be careful! o,o I don't like reading that you've been in pain... :( I'm glad you had fun though. I laughed at the Mario Kart names.