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Three Things I Learned After My First Track Day Crash

As track day enthusiasts, there’s a lot we have in common when it comes to pushing the limits. From our mechanical curiosity to our desire to shave another tenth off of our lap times, we share a passion that brings us together in so many incredible ways. For most of us, we also share the experience of crashing on-track and the challenges that come on the road to recovery. We each learn different lessons along the way that stick with us and shape who we are going forward. This is my story.

The Crash

As an avid racer, I’ve taken my share of spills on-track over the past 25 years. I’ve been upside down, pulled out of my car on a backboard and ridden in an ambulance on more than one occasion. But for me, there is something different about racing and track days. I’ve always felt like I was willing to push the limits during track days, but never dialed it up enough to worry about having a serious accident on track. This all changed in February of 2017 when I lost the front end going into turn 3A at Sonoma Raceway.

It was the first session of the day, so the track was cold. This was my first track day event of the year, so I told myself I would take it easy and focus on shaking down the bike. As I began to initiate the right-hand corner, without warning, the front-end lost all traction. I hit the ground hard and instantly knew I had broken my right collarbone. My head bounced off the track which left me a bit dazed and wondering exactly what had happened. I did my best to pull myself away from the racing line to avoid being run over by other riders. As I laid there on the cold concrete surface, all I could think about was, “I’m THAT guy who caused the session to stop because he couldn’t keep it together out here.” After having my leathers cut off of me, I was taken to the nearest emergency room where I went through the usual examination process and was ultimately discharged to await surgery later that week. My body was sore, my ego was bruised, and I wasn’t sure if/when I would ever get back on track.

As someone who is always focused on how I can improve, I didn’t want this accident to be something that simply happened. I wanted to learn from it so that I could be a better rider. And my hope is that by sharing what I’ve learned, it may help others as well. As I recovered from my crash, I reflected on the impact this accident had on me and what I had learned as a result.

Accidents Provide an Opportunity to Learn

On the racetrack, we’re all looking for the same thing. The limit! How fast can we go? How hard can we push? And the only way to find the limit, is to actually exceed it at some point. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for exceeding the limit. Sometimes it’s a small price, like dropping a wheel off track on corner exit. Other times, the price is much higher. Whether you pay a small price or a big one, it’s important to look back and understand what limit you just found. And was it the right limit? Did you experience an accident (or near accident) because you had the wrong line, missed the braking point, or rolled back onto the throttle too soon? Or did you truly find the limit of what your vehicle can do at that point on the track?

Also ask yourself, “How can I apply what I’ve learned to other areas of the track?” “If I’ve found the limit in this turn, what does that tell me about the turns leading up to it or following it?” “If I’ve found the limit here, does that also imply that I’ve found other limits?” Taking time to reflect on what you’ve learned by exceeding the limit should not be taken lightly. You’ve paid a price for this lesson. Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth!

Mental Healing May Take Longer Than Physical Healing

Following my surgery to repair my collarbone, my immediate focus was on getting my body back into shape so that I could get back on track as soon as possible. I followed my physical therapy workouts and used this time at the gym to get the rest of my body healthy as well. I was so focused on coming back stronger that I hadn’t taken time to mentally evaluate how I was feeling since my accident. It wasn’t until a family member asked me if I was going to get back on the bike for future track day events that I realized my body wasn’t the only thing that had come out of my accident a bit broken. Like a light switch being turned on, I suddenly realized that I had developed a few mental roadblocks that may keep me from going back on track. I questioned my riding skills and the judgement I had used while on track. Had I really played it as safe as I thought I did? Was I riding that far above my skill level?

These were all questions I would need to answer before I could feel confident getting back on the bike and attending my next track day event. For some people, answers to these questions come very quickly, without hesitation. But for others, like me, they took more reflection and more time. While getting my physical health back on track was merely a matter of hitting the gym, getting my mental health back on track took more time. For me, this was a little surprising as I assumed my physical health would be what determined how quickly I could get back on track. It’s important to take inventory of both your physical and your mental health so that you know when you’re truly ready to push the limits again!

You Can Come Back Physically Stronger

Following my accident at Sonoma Raceway, I underwent four hours of surgery to implant a six-inch titanium plate, ten screws and a handful of bone putty to fix my collarbone, which had been shattered into six pieces. I spent several months going through rehab to regain mobility and strength in my right arm and was determined to get back on the bike within 60 days. I had seen numerous athletes suffer significant injuries, only to be back on track within weeks. So why should I expect anything different?

Well, clearly I’m not a professional athlete who gets paid to perform on-track, so my initial expectations were completely unrealistic. I didn’t have personal trainers working with me every day on my fitness. I had a 40-hour a week job and a family. I squeezed in physical therapy and a few workouts when I could, but my time was limited.

But even with the limited amount of time I spent at the gym, I began to notice changes in how I was feeling. Initially, the focus was on regaining strength in my injured arm however, I slowly expanded these workouts to include strength training across the rest of my body. With time, I incorporated cardio elements as well and before I knew it, my body felt stronger than it had prior to my accident. While this accident had taken a toll on my body, I had used this as an opportunity to not only heal, but to come back even stronger.

It took me nearly three years to get back on my bike and out on another racetrack. And I’ll be honest, what kept me from getting out there sooner was mostly in my head. “How will I feel?” “What if I can’t get comfortable?” These were the battles I was fighting. But I was determined to overcome them and I did. My first day back on track was filled with nerves but every lap and every session helped me fight my battle and continue with my passion.

So much in life isn’t about what happens but rather, how you respond and what you learn in the process. This was certainly the case for me following my crash. I learned a lot about how to be a better rider, how to become stronger and how to overcome mental obstacles that would have otherwise kept me from my passion. In life, you live, you learn, and you hit the track again!


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