After a Crash, Part 1: Three Types of Wrecks

Read Part 2

Warning: Auto racing is dangerous. All forms of motorized sports are dangerous. No product can protect the user against all possible or foreseeable accidents, even ones at low speed. No warranty is expressed or implied regarding this product’s ability to prevent users from injury or death. The user assumes all risks.”

The helmet you purchased has some similar warning on the side of the box. A warning that many glaze over before putting on their new helmet and heading out to their autocross or track day. 

Everybody knows motorsports is dangerous. Even if in the back of their mind they hope it will never happen to them.

The last sentence in the warning is the most important, and probably the least considered: The user assumes all risks. 

Drivers in all forms of motorsport, from autocross to road racing, all take the risk to win. You can manage risk by getting all the best safety gear, going to the top racing school, and doing all the right things to buy down the risk of crashing. 

You can do it all right, but if you do it for long enough, you’ll crash your car. Crashing can be anything as minor as a bent-up fender or bumper from another car to totaling your race car in a wall. 

There are three types of crashes.

  1. You make a mistake.
  2. Somebody else makes a mistake.
  3. None of the above.

The first is self-explanatory. You’ve run out of talent or misjudged a situation, and mistakes are compounding until it results in your car meeting a wall or another car. 

This type of crash is hard to admit to because of ego sometimes. I always respect drivers who are willing to take responsibility for their actions. Drivers who are willing to admit they made an error learn from it and become better drivers who never repeat it again.

The second type of crash is frustrating. Somebody else is at fault, and your car has bent metal as a result. 

The other driver created situation number one for himself, and you’re taken along for the ride as a result. The frustrating part of this is that you may not have done anything wrong, but your car now needs repairs. You got the short end of the stick in this situation, but in the end, it is part of the risk we all take for the shot to win.

The third type of crash is where an individual is not the cause of the crash. It is more of an act of God, something that nobody could have prevented in that moment. 

It can be anything from a mechanical problem—something that breaks on your car and causes you to lose control—or an earthquake that swallows the car whole. 

Or it can be a racing incident ruled by the racing stewards as not really having a driver who caused it, just a situation of circumstance that resulted in a crash.

In all three of these situations, the driver has assumed all risks. When a driver puts wheels on track, he or she is accepting the risk whether they know it or not. 

If you are willing to risk it all for the glory of winning, you deal with the consequences of losing. The consequences of losing can be a harsh reality as you pick up the pieces of your race car on the side of the track.


Photo credit: James Ray

My crash was the second kind. Another driver pushed my car off a straightaway, sending me into a concrete wall. 

SCCA reviewed the incident and quickly found the other driver at fault. My newly built E46-chassis M3 met its untimely death just weeks after being completed.

In some crashes, there is a point of no return where you know your car will hit the wall. Remember to take both hands off the steering wheel and cross them on your chest. This will prevent the steering wheel from breaking your thumbs and wrists during the jarring impact. 

It is equally important to take both feet off the pedals for the same safety reasons. If you have crossed the point of no return, “two feet in” won’t make a difference anymore. You want to protect your limbs and let the harnesses or seat take the load. 

When my car hit the Jersey barrier, I had my arms crossed, but my right foot was still on the brake pedal. This mistake caused a huge amount of force to travel through my foot on impact with the concrete and broke several bones in my right foot.

It’s a minor injury in the grand scheme of things, but five months later I’m stuck in a cast and hobbling on crutches. The hands-off and feet-off rule will help prevent injury.

The risks of crashing include physical and financial consequences. After my crash, some people suggested starting a GoFundMe to help rebuild my car. It is my belief that crowdfunding is for true emergencies or life-threatening situations. 

There was recently an emergency vehicle volunteer at Thunderhill who was injured while assisting a driver on track. He sustained serious injuries and is looking at a long road for recovery, and the motorsport community was more than happy to pitch in, raising more than $38,000 to help his recovery. 

This type of cause is the real reason crowdfunding exists. Not to panhandle the community to rebuild bent metal from a first-world hobby. 

Being able to participate in this sport and walking away from a big crash is a privilege in itself.

 

Read the rest of the series:

Part 2: The Day After the Wreck

Part 3: Seeking Racing Justice

Part 4: Building a New Race Car From Scratch

Part 5: A New Roll Cage for the New Race Car

Part 6: The Thrash to Meet a Firm Deadline, the SCCA Runoffs

Part 7: Before Returning to the Track, Time to Make It Look Like a Real Race Car

Part 8: 60 Days After Destroying the Race Car and Building a New One, It's Time to Take the Green at the Runoffs

Part 9: Pondering Future Racing Plans

 

How Christina got her start in motorsports.

 

Like what you're reading? We rely on your financial support. For as little as $3, you can support Grassroots Motorsports by becoming a Patron today. 

Become a Patron!

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Safety and Crashing articles.
Comments
View comments on the GRM forums
Patrick
Patrick MegaDork
4/6/20 6:30 p.m.

Hi christina!

Sarah Young
Sarah Young Editorial/Art Assistant
4/6/20 6:42 p.m.

Christina rules.

BigsexySVG
BigsexySVG
4/6/20 6:50 p.m.

Great article. Sorry about your car. Great advice about crossing your arms and protecting your feet. Hard thing to wrap your head around and try to remember in the blink of an eye. Most people's instinct is to try and save it to the end. Cars can be replaced human body parts or whole bodies can not. 

RyanGreener
RyanGreener Reader
4/6/20 7:03 p.m.

Good advice with the crossing arms/feet thing. I don't think a lot of people are told this kinds of stuff. Honestly, I only knew the hands of the wheel thing.

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
4/6/20 7:12 p.m.
RyanGreener said:

Honestly, I only knew the hands of the wheel thing.

Me too. Great post, overall.

Dave M (Forum Supporter)
Dave M (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
4/6/20 7:50 p.m.

Great post! Crashing sucks (especially when it's your fault, ask me how I know)... Hope you're better soon.

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
4/6/20 8:26 p.m.

Somewhat related, the strangest crash I saw was at a trackday event. The organizers had set the next group to go out, but for whatever reason, put the head of the line way out of pit lane past the wall. Yup, someone loses it and comes over, sideswiping a bunch of cars. Some people were in their cars, some out, and while no one was hurt, there was a lot of finger pointing. While I get that people were upset, it's totally on each of us to refuse to put ourselves and our cars someplace that's unsafe...

Anyhow, yeah, stuff can happen and it's pretty much always on us, even if we aren't in the car when it happens.

TGMF
TGMF HalfDork
4/7/20 8:37 a.m.

When you say feet in...can you elaborate on best technique?   Off the actual pedals but braced against the firewall under the pedals? Maybe the trans tunnel and the dead pedal? or just kind of free floating  as best as possible in the foot well? Does one want to pull their feet toward them? For me this would raise my knees which seems like it would increase the chance for injury there?   

If one is still on a high grip surface like the road/track where every foot is scrubbing off speed/ energy while braking the decision to release the pedal for impact has to be something you're forever second guessing.....if I had stayed on the brake pedal, would it have made the crash any less sever? 

Finally, does any of this apply to driving on the street, or those of us with street/track cars... crossed arms and airbags what's the best practice there? 

christinaylam
christinaylam New Reader
4/7/20 9:14 a.m.
TGMF said:

When you say feet in...can you elaborate on best technique?   Off the actual pedals but braced against the firewall under the pedals? Maybe the trans tunnel and the dead pedal? or just kind of free floating  as best as possible in the foot well? Does one want to pull their feet toward them? For me this would raise my knees which seems like it would increase the chance for injury there?   

If one is still on a high grip surface like the road/track where every foot is scrubbing off speed/ energy while braking the decision to release the pedal for impact has to be something you're forever second guessing.....if I had stayed on the brake pedal, would it have made the crash any less sever? 

Finally, does any of this apply to driving on the street, or those of us with street/track cars... crossed arms and airbags what's the best practice there? 

I'd do feet up, off the pedals. I wouldn't brace against anything in the footwell area, because you will run into the same issue of energy being transferred through the car to your foot. I've seen people pull their feet towards themselves, kind of like a fetal position as best you can in a car. You bring up a good point about the knees, so check to see how much clearance you have there with the wheel. It could be a good idea to sit in your racecar with all this down time and maybe imagine how a scenario like this could play out. That way if you are ever faced with it, it would be like second nature to pull everything in. 

I agree with your second point. My foot was on the brake pedal as I didn't consider the ramifications of the impact, and I was hoping to slow the car down as much as possible. But in the case you know you are hitting the wall and it is worth crossing your arms, the same would apply to your lets/feet. There was less than a second between getting pushed and hitting the wall in my case. While time slows down in your mind, there isn't a lot of time for the car to slow down. I don't think it would have made much of a difference in my case. 

Hands off/feet off would apply in a street/track car with airbags. The same energy transfer from your wheel or pedals would occur in an impact. If you hit a point of no return (saving it) then save yourself. The car is meant to protect you. 

The only difference is your safety gear setup. Those of you with airbags in street/track cars, I urge you to look into upgrading your safety gear. Safety systems are all meant to work together. If you have airbags and a stock 3 point belt, that whole system works together in an impact as the belt gives a little bit before locking and the airbag deploys to catch you. The other option is to go 5/6 point belts with a Hans, this is the route I recommend. Too often I see track cars with harnesses but no Hans. The system needs all the pieces to work together. A set of harnesses won't keep you any safer if you are in a front impact with no neck restraint. It only takes a 40mph impact to snap your neck in the improper use of safety equipment. 

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
4/7/20 10:08 a.m.

Except for those of us who rally. In which case there are:

1) You made a mistake (by "you" I mean "the driver/codriver combo")

2) Something broke

3) That tree moved from where it used to be

 

And in rally there is seldom time to pull the hands/feet off before impact, since the line between "point of no return" and "perfect apex" is about 1 foot. No big grassy areas where you can prepare for impact!

Sometimes you get a ditch that saves you from smashing into the tree sideways though. We rode the ditch for 200 feet and popped back out onto the stage. :)

1985 BMW 318 Stage Rally Build - 1988 Porsche 924S Street Build ...

christinaylam
christinaylam New Reader
4/7/20 11:19 a.m.
irish44j said:

Except for those of us who rally. In which case there are:

1) You made a mistake (by "you" I mean "the driver/codriver combo")

2) Something broke

3) That tree moved from where it used to be

 

And in rally there is seldom time to pull the hands/feet off before impact, since the line between "point of no return" and "perfect apex" is about 1 foot. No big grassy areas where you can prepare for impact!

Sometimes you get a ditch that saves you from smashing into the tree sideways though. We rode the ditch for 200 feet and popped back out onto the stage. :)

1985 BMW 318 Stage Rally Build - 1988 Porsche 924S Street Build ...

Those damn trees just gotta stop jumping out of nowhere! 

That is a really cool photo. Talk about driving on the edge! Rally is wild, I'd love to try it someday. 

 

Matt Huffman
Matt Huffman New Reader
4/7/20 11:35 a.m.

Very well written article.  this is a perfect example of why I never plan to race wheel to wheel: I'm just not willing to accept the risks introduced by other people in road racing.  I've seen too many ridiculous videos.   I guess that's why I stick to solo racing, where the only person I can blame is myself.  I even do all my own car work, so I can't even blame someone else on a mechanical...

I'll stick to autocross, rallycross, time attack, and hillclimbs.  Exception is concession karting, if someone wrecks me I still have a car to drive home! 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
4/7/20 11:42 a.m.

In reply to irish44j :

Don't forget the three grades of rally crash severity!

  1. A "moment"- could have been bad but escaped with minor cosmetic damage and no stoppage.
  2. An "off"- anything from a minor scuff up to a roll, but the car continues the rally after roadside repairs or a push.
  3. "Binning it"- DNF.
irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/7/20 3:13 p.m.
christinaylam said:
irish44j said:

Except for those of us who rally. In which case there are:

1) You made a mistake (by "you" I mean "the driver/codriver combo")

2) Something broke

3) That tree moved from where it used to be

 

And in rally there is seldom time to pull the hands/feet off before impact, since the line between "point of no return" and "perfect apex" is about 1 foot. No big grassy areas where you can prepare for impact!

Sometimes you get a ditch that saves you from smashing into the tree sideways though. We rode the ditch for 200 feet and popped back out onto the stage. :)

1985 BMW 318 Stage Rally Build - 1988 Porsche 924S Street Build ...

Those damn trees just gotta stop jumping out of nowhere! 

That is a really cool photo. Talk about driving on the edge! Rally is wild, I'd love to try it someday. 

 

The funnier view is from the inside cam that points toward us. Jim is staring right at the tree as we slide into the ditch and has this goofy smile on his face like he thinks it's funny....

 

Also not shown: Paul Batman (yes, his real name) in his Subaru that was right behind us slid into the ditch RIGHT behind us, but he popped out faster (thanks AWD) and zoomed by before we could get out lol....

Here's the vid - it's not as exciting as the still makes it look lol....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etF91h1z4QE&list=PLFiYgc2-iLj83NZRmrRPunWT7U7woffUX

 

jason54221
jason54221 None
4/7/20 6:47 p.m.

Great write up, it's an all too real part of this sport. Just like professional athletes that get injured, these incidents can have long lasting impacts. I had a less severe crash in the 90s, and even though I had all the safety equipment back then, my back was never right, it's something I've dealt with and reminded of every single day for over 20 years now. Stay safe, stay strong, recover fast!

jason54221
jason54221 New Reader
4/7/20 6:51 p.m.

In reply to RyanGreener :

I don't think they started teaching that until the 90's

_
_ Dork
4/7/20 7:42 p.m.

Exactly why I stopped track driving. follow my logic: 

"If you are willing to risk it all for the glory of winning, you deal with the consequences of losing."

winning is few, losing is the majority. Losing in this case is wrecking. Wrecking is expensive. Expensive means less time driving. Driving is the fun part. Fixing, not so much. 
 

and this friends, is why I quit. Autocross only. 

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
4/7/20 7:47 p.m.

In reply to christinaylam :

Crashing hurts both the ego and physically.  Been there done that!!  Hope you mend up and can carry on!!!  And I completely agree re your sediments about go fund me things.  Thank you for taking the lead on that.  I wish more people understood that.!!!

Wishing you the best!!!

 

Dean

 

 

 

christinaylam
christinaylam New Reader
4/7/20 8:06 p.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

Thanks Dean! Its a big financial hit as well. I understand why people have a knee jerk reaction of starting a gofundme as a way to get back on track. In the end, it is part of the risk we all take when we sign that waiver. I believe in taking responsiblity for what you sign up for. 

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
4/7/20 9:28 p.m.

Ms. Lam is a class act. I remember when the GoFundMe idea first appeared. She shot that down like a sniper hunting Bin Laden. She knows you wanna play, you gotta be willing to pay.

W2W racing requires a certain level of fearlessness to run at the front. Besides a heavily drained bank account I realized I didn't have that 'killer instinct' it would take to run with the big dawgs. I also wasn't willing to risk the car I'd built to not be destroyed. So I sold it, got an HPDE car and went back to just playing race car driver.

And promptly crashed the new car the first time out. All my fault. If you decide to place your car's tires on a racing surface you'd best be prepared to lose it. Sometimes stuff breaks, sometimes other drivers screw up, sometimes stuff just happens...but often it's just a momentary loss of focus that puts you and your last three years of UPS deliveries into the wall. Not a decision anyone should take lightly.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH MegaDork
4/7/20 11:22 p.m.

When someone pulled out of a side road close in front of me leading to my Samurai getting wrecked, when the crash looked inevitable I thought about crossing my arms over my chest but decided to try driving a bit more. Big mistake, that led to months of physiotherapy to take care of muscle pain in my back, and what in hindsight I'm pretty sure was a fractured sternum. I hadn't even heard of taking your legs off the pedals before this article, in that crash the hit was to the passenger corner so my footwell wasn't deformed, but I was both feet in which added a blown brake MC to the list of repairs needed.

APEowner
APEowner Dork
4/8/20 9:15 a.m.

Christina - I'm sorry to read about your wreck.  I hope you heal quickly and get back on track soon.

That's a great article that provides plenty of food for thought and discussion.  In the vein of discussion, not criticism I offer the following pondering.

I've seen plenty of evidence that the "let go of the wheel and grab the belts" technique can avoid injury in a crash, and I've used it myself, but I confesses to some skepticism about taking your feet of the pedals. I get why having your feet braced against the pedals causes injury but I don't know that there's really a good alternative.  There's no real foot equivalent to grabbing the belts.  If you just pull them back doesn't that just mean that they're going to impact something even harder when the car stops?   I know that I've seen legs broken from flailing around when a car rolls.  That's a different scenario so maybe it's not relevant.  The ideal would probably be to gently rest both feet on the brake pedal since there's sort of a built in crush zone but that seems counter to every instinct and I'm pretty sure I couldn't bring myself to do that.

Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
4/8/20 9:24 a.m.

Crashes are scary, I spun my car at mid Ohio and was 110% sure I was gonna hit the wall, I was braced for impact and the bang never came. 

christinaylam
christinaylam New Reader
4/8/20 12:03 p.m.
APEowner said:

Christina - I'm sorry to read about your wreck.  I hope you heal quickly and get back on track soon.

That's a great article that provides plenty of food for thought and discussion.  In the vein of discussion, not criticism I offer the following pondering.

I've seen plenty of evidence that the "let go of the wheel and grab the belts" technique can avoid injury in a crash, and I've used it myself, but I confesses to some skepticism about taking your feet of the pedals. I get why having your feet braced against the pedals causes injury but I don't know that there's really a good alternative.  There's no real foot equivalent to grabbing the belts.  If you just pull them back doesn't that just mean that they're going to impact something even harder when the car stops?   I know that I've seen legs broken from flailing around when a car rolls.  That's a different scenario so maybe it's not relevant.  The ideal would probably be to gently rest both feet on the brake pedal since there's sort of a built in crush zone but that seems counter to every instinct and I'm pretty sure I couldn't bring myself to do that.

This is a great discussion point. The last thing you want to do is cause a major injury (breaking legs) to avoid a smaller one (breaking a foot). I can only speak from my experience which was head on into concrete, where lifting feet off pedals would have saved me 4 months of non weight bearing. In another situation like a rollover, legs flailing in the cockpit could cause more injury if not braced against something. 

I think like you said, it will depend on the situation. In a rollover, the car continues to disperse energy as it rolls until it comes to a stop. Having your foot or leg against something may not be a bad idea here since the energy being transfered is continuous. The different directions you are being subjected to could be more dangerous if you let your legs flail. 

In a front impact like mine, the car went from 100mph to 0 in a split second. So the energy from the hit is much higher as velocity of the car goes to 0 in an instant. V=ma? Any physics people want to chime in and put some math to this theory? 

Yet another thing to think about as you either are about to take a tumble or hit an inanimate object. Time slows down btw when you realize everything is about to go sideways. It is interesting how the mind works in a crisis moment. 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
4/8/20 1:00 p.m.

As for the slow motion portion I find the opposite, but my view may be purely semantics.

While running on track everything seems slowed down/normal to me (could be the A.D.D.) but in a crash everything goes by rapidly. Keep in mind in 30 years of car racing I have (knock wood) not crashed, I have had a car catch on fire in a 125 mph corner but no crashes. Now my motorcycle racing was a different story;  I once went over the bars at about 85 mph, every detail of the get off is indelibly etched in my brain, once I actually impacted the ground and slammed bounced along everything happened in a flash. One second I was on the bike the next I was on the ground wondering why my feet and hands hurt so much. i can still remember travel face down head first along the tarmac and the face shield grinding into two haves like it just happened. The overwhelming memory is of the raw violence of the incident.

I joke that I screamed and no sound came out, naturally I was back racing again in a few weeks, the brain is a marvelous thing.

I think it seems slow-motion is because we can remember every nanosecond of the incident.

Christina I will be interested to see what words of advice you have in future articles.

Jameseshepherd
Jameseshepherd
4/8/20 6:29 p.m.

In reply to irish44j :

Yeah ... take a look at the tree on the inside of this corner - it appears it jumped out of nowhere for a large number of drivers

 

twentyover
twentyover Dork
4/9/20 4:21 p.m.

About 35 years ago, in my early thirtys (can I be that old?), had a get off on my motorbike. CASUAL Sunday morning ride along Ortega Hwy in SoCal. Moron in a Toyota pickup truck pull onto the road w/o looking and initiated a U turn,  I tagged hm just behind the front wheel and over his hood.

 

Point of me telling the story is that I flew over the hood, and was almost unscathed. Typical scrapes and bruises, but my right wrist was shattered as I was clamped hard on the front brake.

 

In some situations you need to plan for alternatives. In this one, I think I chose to ride it out (I later learned that the other guys insurance was hoping to avoid some % responsibility by thinking I'd decided o lay it down, surrendering control of the bike to God and natural forces.) Do I think I made the wrong decision braking hard? One could claim had I braked harder, I would have gone into the cab side, probably exacerbatin' my injuries. Had I not braked, i would have hit at or before his front wheel, but at higher speed. In my case, I think I Goldilock's, I pulled some speed out of the collision, and got damn lucky.

 

So to me the upshot is think about different types of accidents while you're parked on your couch, and practice hand/foot movements to try to build some muscle memory.

 

35 years on, I can still predict rain, have 80-90% of my wrist movement, and have a lump an inch in diameter and 1/2" high from my otherwise perfectly symetrical form.

 

Two months later  I threw a leg over the backup bike, and ran the Laverda Alpina for 'nother 2 years

 

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/11/20 2:16 p.m.

So glad to hear all the positive comments. 

Look for part 2 this Monday. 

LanEvo
LanEvo Dork
4/12/20 1:01 a.m.

The other problem with bracing your legs is that you increase risk of injury to your back. And back injuries generally cause greater long-term morbidity than limb injuries.

On a related note: pay attention to padding. I've been in lots of racecars (that passed tech!) with literally no padding at all on lower parts of the door bars or front stay. You don't want to smack the side of your ankle into naked steel. I'm anal about covering anything I might possibly hit with SFI padding. To protect limbs (not just helmeted head) you'll want dual-durometer foam.

Also pay attention to things like helmet hooks and rearview mirror mounts. I've seen a lot of them that could spear parts of you if limbs start flailing about.

Our Preferred Partners
hVWOrjyXr8dIzUl0F7CHzzMMtVdYrgJ4etlDudmvuXHtMeXNGslW6DzmNYCS1zEz