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When Disaster Strikes

My 2020 “Big Go” experience came to an abrupt end in round one of Super Gas. There, Alan Bush beat me on the starting line (.006 to .018) and the finish line (9.91 to 9.92). I never saw his win light come on. I was too busy in the cockpit of my new C7 Corvette…

At about 1250’, I attempted to hit the brakes and let Alan go – except I had no brake pedal. My first instinct was that I missed the brake pedal with my foot (it was only my 12th run in a new car), so I instinctively swiped at them again. After a couple tries, it became apparent that I wasn’t missing the pedal: the brake pedal was missing (upon further examination, the bolt that mounts the brake pedal to the chassis had fallen out)! As you can probably imagine, there are not many worse feelings in life than realizing you are going nearly 170 mph and don’t have brakes (much less in a gorgeous, brand new race car)!

Fortunately, I did the things that I know to do as a driver, and did them in an efficient fashion. Fortunately, I was competing at Lucas Oil Raceway, which features one of the longest shut down areas on the NHRA tour.  Fortunately, I didn’t freak out.

Once I realized that I didn’t have brakes, I got the parachute out (not a safety item that I typically rely on in Super Gas). Typically, I click the car into neutral and kill the ignition at the finish line – which I actually assumed I did initially in this instance – but I guess when I went for the brake pedal that no longer existed, I got a little out of rhythm. Thankfully, I never got it shut off. After I pulled the chute, I reached for the switch panel to restart the engine (so that I could use it to gear down): it was then that I realized it was still running. At that point, it was pretty simple. I let it gear down in high gear for a second or two before pulling it into low and alternating back and forth (using the RPM of the motor and the gearing of the transmission kind of like an engine brake). I slid my thumb over the transbrake button, prepared to engage it in low gear if I ran out of room, but fortunately locking it wasn’t necessary. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as hectic as it probably sounds, and I made the turnoff at a typical speed.

I share this story here not to pat myself on the back. To be honest, in my specific situation, I think I would’ve had to completely freak out or seize up for disaster to strike: I had plenty of room and plenty of time. That’s not always the case.  

The reason I share this story is to emphasize the importance of having a plan. As racers, we know that there are inherent dangers within our sport; but we don’t often talk about them. In fact, most of us are more comfortable if we don’t even think about those “worst case” scenarios. The fact is, if you’re a racer – and I don’t care if your race car runs 40 mph or 240 mph – there is always a chance for unexpected danger. What will you do if you cross the finish line and realize you don’t have brakes? What will you do if the throttle hangs wide open? What if you’re on fire? The “correct” answers to these questions can vary by race car, and also due to where you’re racing (what I’d do in this situation, for example, at Lucas Oil Raceway is different than what I’d do at Music City Raceway).

While none of us want to think about things going wrong, it’s wise to consider the possibility and prepare. It’s also wise to make those questions part of our regular routine: the more that we mentally run through those types of situations, the less likely we are to panic or seize up in the moment. And of course, it’s wise to do as much preventative maintenance as possible to minimize the risk of the (you know what) hitting the fan (notice I said minimize, not eliminate): an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of the cure!

I’ve recited this story to other racers and within our ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE community, and shared it here with one goal in mind: to challenge you to think through the best possible sequence of events… What can YOU do behind the wheel to avoid or at least minimize catastrophe?  If you read through this and think to yourself, even for a minute, that you’re not clear on the best practice in your specific vehicle or at a particular track for dealing with any of the above situations, I’d highly encourage you to take a deeper dive with me at thisisbracketracing.com/whatwillyoudoif

In that blog, we dive into a variety of specific situations, and cover a whole bunch of options in an effort to help racers like you choose the best exit plan to avert or at least minimize risk and damage. Of the 300+ training resources that ThisIsBracketRacing.com houses for sportsman drag racers striving to become the best version of themselves on the race track, this lesson may well be the most important!

1 Comment

  1. John Rollins
    John Rollins

    Hey Luke, nearly the exact same thing happened to me in Super Comp at Orlando once. 8.90 at 161 (time run) followed by no pedal. (The battery box had broken a weld and slammed into the master cylinder on launch, knocking the brake line loose.) I thought about the chute and decided I was out of time when passing the first turnoff (Orlando is much shorter than Indy). I did what you did, making sure I was ready to crash if needed then pulling low gear and hoping it didn’t bounce much. I made the turnoff, but it’s definitely something you don’t forget and keeps you motivated to ask “what if”.

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