Friday, March 25, 2022

A Decade Since The Crash In Nashville

I saw sky and was confused. Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" was playing in the background and I had a momentary sense of peace. I still didn't know what was going on and I saw Debi Supan running at Mach 2 at me. It was at this point I tried to breathe and realized just how much pain I was in.

When it comes to memories, my memory system is highly interlinked like a spider web, and nothing spurs memories as much as an anniversary and even more so when it's been a decade since something happened. Today marks a decade since the first of what would become way too many incidents involving a quarter midget and a flag stand I was standing in. 

The pain was beyond what I could've imagined. My ankle felt like it was on fire, and I kept looking down at my rib area because I was sure I had a foot long knife stabbed into me. A group of people were hovering over me now talking about the best way to get to a hospital. A car pulled up and they considered loading me on as it would be faster than an ambulance. People were giving me words of encouragement and one stuck out above all others. A parent, first name Paul, said, "Aaron, this is just you building your legacy. When you make it to the Indianapolis 500, you'll have this story to tell!"

I look back on that day and I now actually smile. It can be a bit traumatic remembering the crash frame by frame as time went by at that speed as I saw two cars try to avoid a spinning car and as they got into the wall the wall started to coil into the stand and I knew as those two cars got to the stand the brunt force and recoil of the wall was going to hurt. I wasn't wrong.

The person that went with me to the hospital was amazing. I was hurting, but I also was rather sad about missing the rest of the event that day. She assured me the event was going to be just fine without me and she kept me informed with how the races were going. I was actually out of X-rays before the race that had struck me finished. I then, for some illogical reason, worried I wouldn't be invited back to flag as if I had some control over the incident that occurred. 

It was such an amazing time for me back in 2012. I was just a week from a nationwide book/speaking tour and was concerned as to if this would hinder it. My friend Rob, from Vancouver, was coming down to be my copilot so the tour really wasn't in jeopardy, but it was a strong fear due to all the resources that were going into it.

The doctor came in and said I was lucky. Just one fractured rib, a bruised hip, sprained ankle, and a hematoma on my shin. I didn't feel lucky but being able to hobble out of the hospital was a plus. The replay of the crash played through my mind, and I remembered looking down into a car which I thought was odd, but that night when my dad sent me the multiple YouTube links to the capture, he got it made sense and I realized that yes, I was lucky.

Heading back to the track was awkward. I didn't want any bit of a social scene and just wanted to disappear. That was probably half of Asperger's talking and the other half the pain meds. Thankfully I did an awesome job staying incognito getting into the series director's car. 

I stared off to the track where the victory photos were going on. Lost in thought I wondered where some of those drivers would end up in racing. The winners were given the customary guitar that the track gave to winners and then there was a knock on the window I wasn't looking out. The door swung opened and it was a guitar signed by the winners of the day and I was told this guitar was now mine.

In racing there are lots of mementos one can collect be it tickets, hard cards, autographs, or in this case an autographed guitar. Of everything I've collected in my life this guitar is my second most prized possession only behind the checkered flag Duane Sweeney gave me. In an attempt to properly research the names for this blogpost I tried to find a list online of some of these autographs, I couldn't find results from the day. This, in a way, saddens me. I struggle with the passage of time, and this is just a reminder that this event was so long ago. Several of the drivers, well, they made it! Carson Hocevar is in the NASCAR Truck Series and Harrison Burton is in his rookie season of the NASCAR Cup Series. 

I was dropped off at my car and since I was on pain meds I couldn't drive. Debi volunteered to drive me in my car from Nashville to Saint Louis and on the ride the conversation was deep. We talked about racing, naturally, and the dedication it takes to succeed. I mentioned what Paul had said and she agreed. There was a spot, somewhere in Kentucky, that we hit a bump and the pain took my breath away which made me wonder if I wanted to continue in this racing business. As fast as the pain subsided a mile later, I was ready for the next event.

That car ride made me reflective not just on if I wanted to continue, but it showed me the family that is the racing family. My injuries weren't serious, but the amount of texts and emails I received from concerned parents, and in the following week I received about a dozen cards from some of the kids, it was special and kept me in the game of racing. My national tour the following week went off without a hitch and when my speaking tour got to Phoenix I flagged the SKUSA SpringNats which saw a kart end up with its nose in my flag stand. I wasn't fazed physically, but it did test my resolve. The week after I returned to the quarter midget series at the Orange Show track in San Bernadino and it was a much needed "back on the horse" experience. 

As I finish this blog post I'm brought to tears thinking about all the coworkers, drivers, parents, and places I knew back then. I'm beyond thankful to have made it to the NTT INDYCAR Series, but I'm a bit sad that, back in 2012, I questioned if all of the miles and hours would be worth it if I never made it to Indy. The dedication I had to excel and move up partially blinded me to just how awesome of a time it was back then. Maybe the kids that raced in Nashville have that same type of memory. I know I'd give just about anything to go back and work with those people one more time. Of course, without cars flying in my direction. 

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