Several Years ago I first took my old Convertible sports car onto Buttonwillow Raceway. I realized very quickly that part of me that had been sleeping for most of my life. Even though the M3 Convertible was really not suited for what I was doing with it, and my driving skills were in their infancy, I had found a second home.
If you have never been up close to a race-car or a bunch of race cars that have just been driving all-out on a racetrack, it’s quite an expereince. There are some ambient elements that don’t come through with words on a blog. The sounds and smells are intense. The sweet odors of freshly burned 100 octane, …and burned up R-Comp Tires (Racing Compound), along with constantly climbing exhaust notes (Each motor and Exhaust design seems to have its own exclusive melody). You’ll come upon folks that have been doing it for years. They’ll be the guys trailering their fully race-prepped, non-street-legal cars. They’ll have boxes of extra gear that they have with them or off-load at the track. Anything from spare parts, tools, to coolers for drinks on a hot day, sunscreen. The list goes on. Always best to be prepared out there.
Anyway, back to the M3 Convertible. While the M3 Convertible was a great car for freeway cruisin’ or backroads drivin’, it just wasn’t well suited for the track. And, unfortunately, since my torso was so damned tall, with the top down and my helmet on, the top of my helmet would actually stick out OVER the top of the roofline! Now, if you don’t understand how bad this could be, look at the picture to the right and imagine the car flipped over upside down.
There were also other problems with the car. While the car came with basic rollover protection, it did NOT have a true motorsport roll bar, let alone a true 8pt motorsports cage. No fire safety equipment. Due to the car being a convertible, the chassis did not have the rigidity that would be required as I became a better driver. So, even if I wanted to improve things, it became clear that this wasn’t the right car (sad, but true).
So, I sold the car, and eventually ended up with a 1997 M3 Coupe (hardtop). By this time, I had realized the error of my ways (safety had to come first). And on June 21st of this year (2008), all of my planning on this currrent car was realized when an idiot driver not paying attention slammed into me at around 80mph at Thunderhill Raceway.
The damage to the car is sad, and while it’s a lot of damage, it’s repairable (back to perfect working order).
Me, however… My MRI shows that my back is in less than perfect condition. The final finding for the MRI (after a lot of very worrisome details) was this:
Findings: Central and right paracentral disc protrusions L2-L3 through L5-S1, likely compressing the associated nerve roots at L4 and L5 levels. Moderate foraminal narrowing bilaterally.
Now, if you’ve never had a nerve pinched in your back, this is what happened the evening of june 21st as I was walking back from having dinner with some of my track buddies. I can’t compare it to child birth pain since I will never experience that, but it was definitely the worst pain I have ever experienced before. I have had pinched nerves before, but I think due to some swelling in my back due to the collission, the nerve pinching that day was inevitable. In the past when I’ve had a pinched nerve in my back, I’ve been able to lay down (which I did), then eventually get up (which I did), limped myself up to the hotel room, and woke Anna up so she could move over and let me lay down (my new home for the rest of the evening).
Very late that night, I had go get up to go to the bathroom, and I assumed by then that my back had calmed down. I should have taken more note that when I slowly moved to a standing position that ther was still considerable pressure on my spine. Naked, I slowly hobbled to the hotel bathroom, and fearfully planted myself on the toilet. Just as I had finished a very short round of #2, I felt the spasm start to creep back into my lower back. Psyhologically speaking, this is horrifying. The only thing I know to do is lay down flat on the ground, but… I haven’t wiped and if you’re familar with most hotel bathrooms near racetracks, the floorspace in those bathrooms is not exactly well suited to a 6’2″ guy trying to lay completely flat in there.
My back starts to spasm.
I quickly try to move myself into a semi-flat position on the floor, but this ends up prolonging the spasm. In short, the first position I end up in is… my head is near the edge of the tub and the wall, and my legs are between the toilet and the wall… the wall that leads to the door that goes out of the bathroom. This is tough to visualize, but in short, I couldn’t get my right leg into a position where the spasm would stop. I ended up trying to use my arms to help straighten my back, and meanwhile grabbing onto any loose flesh on my body to create pain somewhere else to take my mind away from the spasms piericing up and down my back. After several nightmarish minutes of pain, my back finally calmed down. But it wasn’t over. I still had to get my right leg out that bathroom door to extend it, and to do that, I’d first have to bright the right leg closer to my torso.
This ended up making my back spasm again for several more minutes, but I was able to get the leg out the door (finally).
After my back finally calmed down again, I was able to through several minutes, finally rock myself carefully into a ‘crawling on the floor’ position, and this was the way I came back to bed.
The next morning, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was thinking I might try to drive the truck (with trailer on back with wrecked race car on back, badly loaded), but when simply walking out from the hotel to the truck was enough to make me have to lay down on the 100 degree parking lot black top, I knew that wasn’t going to work. So, Anna’s first experience of driving this truck with this car on the trailer would be on this day. I managed my way into the passenger’s seat, and we propped it back as far as it would go.
On the way back, we stopped at a restaurant to grab some lunch. The walk from where we had to park the truck (because of the trailer) to the restaurant was probably 40 yards. This time i made it into the place, but by the time I sat down in the booth, I was hurting pretty good. I had to hold my back straight while eating, which was tough to do in that kind of booth.
Once we got back into town, we brought the trailer and car back to the trailer yard (unsure of the fate of the race car), and covered it up. We then drove over to the Camino Medical Urgent Care Center. This sounds like an ER name, but it’s just the name they give to a place you can go without an appointment that is not an emergency. The Doctor there took some Xrays which came back normal (that’s a good sign at least). Next, she had me siting upright (I could feel the pressure on my spine), and she performed that standard old knee reflex test with the reflex hammer.
Left Knee: check. (great reaction)
Right Knee….. uh……Right Knee? Hello? Hello Right? Ben to Right Knee?
The right knee was showing little to no reaction.
This greatly concerned the docor since she suspected either nerve damage or swelling around the nerves, the former of which could need immediate care. So, they ambulanced me over to the Camino Hospital, and Anna followed in the truck (I haven’t been to an emergency room in YEARS). The two ambulance dudes were great (both very nice guys, friendly, caring). Once we got over to the ER, and the folks that got me immediately setup in a room realized I wasn’t about to die, I think I was placed pretty low on the totem pole of priorities. In any event, the doctor eventually did come in and due a simliar kind of test to my knees. However, when he did, he had me laying flat on my back (no pressure on the spine). So, this time, the reaction on both knees was normal. I guess this was good since to me, this at least meant that the nerves were at least partially intact, and it probably just meant that there was swelling in the area from the accident. They HAD been talking about getting me an MRI before that, but after that, they decided to send me on my way and have me FIRST go see my primary care doctor (what a pita that all was).
They eventually gave me a very painful shot in the butt, and prescriptions for Valium and Vicodin. I spent the next week mostly on my back, icing, ibuprofening, with a litle pain killer at the beginning.
So, now, I’m up and able to walk around, but its not like it was before the accident. My back seems fragile and more susceptible to fatigure and pressure. I have an appointment on july 18th with the Camino Medical Department of Physiatry.
Some folks may ready this and say “See! Racing cars is a dangerous sport!”, but even now, as I write this, this is not the message I would wish anyone to draw from this. The reason I’m here today, the reason I’m sitting here typing this blog is because I stuck to a very specific design philosophy when planning out that race-car.
1. I had a Hans Device on at the time of the impact
2. I was in a Racing Seat with Head Protection.
3. I was using properly secured 5-pt Harnesses (seat belts).
4. I had a well built 8-point Roll Cage
5. I started with a car that was known to be well built (good crumple zones)
The part that I’m struggling with is my future. Doctors will likely tell me:
“Racing is a hazardous sport, and your back isn’t in great shape, we would encourage you to give it up.
My heart tells me
“If you can do it, and you’re physically able, get that car fixed, and get your ass back out there!’.
But, I know, in my heart, that if I take another impact like that, that it may even more severely affect me and the rest of my life (sigh). At least, I have that feeling (I’m not a doctor). And that’s where my mind is at.