After a Crash, Part 2: The Day After the Wreck

Read Part 1

Read Part 3

Crashes happen and most race cars are repairable, depending on the amount of damage. 

When a severe crash happens, sometimes it is easier to start over than it is to fix the crashed car. The biggest determining factor in whether to fix a badly crashed car is often cost. If the cost to fix exceeds the value or worth of the car, it may be time to start fresh. 

The tow truck dumped the twisted carcass of my M3 in the paddock as the ambulance carried me through. I craned my neck and peered out the tiny window while strapped to the stretcher. 

The car was an ugly sight. Most of the damage was in the front, but the hit rotated the car around and also smashed the rear quarter panel. 

As we pulled out of the track, I was already messaging a junkyard for front-end body parts. There was a sinking feeling in my heart that the car was beyond repair.

The morning following the crash, Hugh and I removed all the damaged body panels. (Hugh Stewart owns Hi-Speed Motorsports, the shop that maintains my car.) Fenders, hood, bumper—all went straight into the scrap pile. 

Removing the panels allows the body shop a clear view of the damage to the car. Hugh works his magic on dozens of crunched race cars each season but was not optimistic about what the body shop would say about this one.

In order to fix a crunched car, body shops need to reverse the inertia that went into the body from the collision. The car is put on a frame machine that can pull the chassis in all directions. 

First, the car gets pulled to put the firewall back where it belongs. Next, they pull and align the front chassis legs, mounting points and subframe. Even if the parts are damaged, the first step in squaring up a car is to pull back to the core.

It is critical that the four suspension points are lined up and square. If these points are not square and level, you will have a crooked race car that will be difficult to set up and align. 

In theory, the track could be off and you would never be able to fix it. It could be like having 10mm spacers on one side of the car and 25mm spacers on the other. Or the car could crab towards one side as it drives down a straightaway. The results of unpredictable behavior on track would be maddening.

In the case of my M3, both front chassis legs were damaged, so both would need to be cut off and replaced after the body shop got the rest of the car straight. The transmission tunnel and floors were buckled and split open at the factory seams. The rear quarter panel would need to be cut entirely off and replaced with a new quarter panel directly from Germany. Body panels get replaced after the frame is straightened.

Our friends at the body shop gave us a quote of $8000 to straighten the frame, replace both chassis legs, and weld on a new quarter panel. Another shop at the track offered to just square up the car for $10,000, no parts included. It was looking like an extremely expensive fix. 

These costs were just the tip of the iceberg to have a straight chassis and did not include repair or replacement of any of the other broken components on the car. 

The No. 12 hit a concrete Jersey barrier head on. Had the car hit a bundle of tires or an Armco wall, it would have been salvageable because these barriers around the track are designed to absorb a large deal of the energy. Instead, my 2700-pound car lost a fight with a 4000-pound concrete slab and moved it several feet.

There was enough energy that went through the chassis that the cage’s dash bar was bent. This would mean additional time in repairs to cut out and replace the bent bars. When cage bars become bent in an impact, it creates a spring effect in the chassis that will have undesirable results on track. 

We decided to scrap the chassis and start anew. 

A fresh shell and new cage were more cost- and time-effective than attempting to smooth out the crumpled foil ball that used to be my race car. Hugh and I decided we were going to build the new chassis in time for our next SCCA race, the Runoffs. The clock was ticking: We had just over 60 days before the Runoffs.

 

We stripped all the parts off the chassis and dragged the skeleton to the junkyard. The guys at the junkyard put on a good show for us with the hydraulic claw and balled it up even more before tossing it aside. 

Racing can be cruel. The car was over a year in the making and then destroyed just weeks after completion. After netting $34 for the scrap metal, we headed back to the shop. 

Time to start over.

 

Read the rest of the series:

Part 1: Three Types of Wrecks

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.

 

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Comments
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Karacticus
Karacticus Dork
4/13/20 8:38 a.m.

Did the shoe get cut off you right foot as well?  
 

I guess that would fall into the cost of other safety equipment that can't be reused. 

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/13/20 11:45 a.m.

In reply to Karacticus :

Luckily the shoe survived. I love those AlpineStars shoes and waited years before splurging on them. 

 

For those of you who want to see the good show at the Junkyard, I've got the video uploaded on my YouTube channel: 

 

 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/13/20 1:06 p.m.

In reply to christinaylam (Forum Supporter) :

Ow. 

IndyLegend33
IndyLegend33 New Reader
4/13/20 2:03 p.m.

Ouch. Sorry to see this happened to you, but I think it's good that people see the other, not-so-positive side of things just to remind them of the risks we take each time we strap in. Glad you're okay and were able to show us your story.

Watched that YouTube video of the car being brought to the junkyard. I was super impressed that the cage put up a fight against the crane's claws. Saw in another video that Hi-Speed did your cage too? They definitely did it right. Looking forward to the next few parts of this journey.

amg_rx7
amg_rx7 SuperDork
4/13/20 2:20 p.m.

Similar happened to me except my car was salvageable. Unfortunately I sustained a concussion that hasn't fully gone away after 6 months. 

RyanGreener
RyanGreener Reader
4/13/20 2:47 p.m.

Pulling that off in that short of time was nothing short of epic....always an inspiring story.

BigsexySVG
BigsexySVG New Reader
4/13/20 2:56 p.m.

Looks like a tough lesson to learn. Glad you didn't quit. This is the kind of stuff that makes legends. Thanks for sharing your story. Hope to race against you one day on the track. Looking forward to reading the next part of this story. 

 

thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter)
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
4/13/20 3:08 p.m.

$34 will get you like a case and a half of High Life. Which might help after balling up your racecar. 

Polopharm
Polopharm New Reader
4/13/20 4:00 p.m.

So wait, when did this happen? 

With all racing cancelled I am confused, where and when? I don't recognize the track in the fotos. 

or maybe it's because I have Corona virus, and am spaced out. 

 

 

 

Polopharm
Polopharm New Reader
4/13/20 4:02 p.m.

Oh wait, sorry I see it was before the run offs. 

Where? 

Photos look like repair was never going to be a realistic option which always sucks! 

Don49 (Forum Supporter)
Don49 (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/13/20 5:12 p.m.

I had a crash at NJMP coming on to the front straight when a GTL car blew its motor and dumped 7 quarts of oil. I hit the armco at 115 mph with my left front, then the left side and the left rear corner. With 6 weeks until the Mid Ohio Runoffs I didn't have time to build a new chassis. Besides front an rear suspension and body damage, the left 1/4 panel was actually bent into a curl. I was unable to pull the 1/4 back out. The fix was a 3/4 section of the left rear, replacing suspension and body panels, including shimming the rear suspension in order to align it. I made it to the Runoffs and equaled my previous lap times. Over the winter I built a new car fro a fresh tub as the car was tweaked badly enough that it would never be right. Sometimes the only right repair is to start fresh.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/13/20 5:17 p.m.
amg_rx7 said:

Similar happened to me except my car was salvageable. Unfortunately I sustained a concussion that hasn't fully gone away after 6 months. 

 People forget that injuries sustained in serious crashes will almost always stay with you for much longer than you expect. Concussions are terrible, hope you are able to heal up during this extended off season. 

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/13/20 5:25 p.m.
thatsnowinnebago (Forum Supporter) said:

$34 will get you like a case and a half of High Life. Which might help after balling up your racecar. 

Might not even take that much, I'm allergic to alcohol so half a can would do me in. laugh

 

BigsexySVG said:

Looks like a tough lesson to learn. Glad you didn't quit. This is the kind of stuff that makes legends. Thanks for sharing your story. Hope to race against you one day on the track. Looking forward to reading the next part of this story. 

Quitting is a terrifying thing. It brings you right back to where you started. And when you started, you'd give anything to be where you are now. Although I never imagined getting this far when I first started in motorsports, I feel like I've just gotten started. You'll see me around for a while. :)

 

IndyLegend33 said:

Ouch. Sorry to see this happened to you, but I think it's good that people see the other, not-so-positive side of things just to remind them of the risks we take each time we strap in. Glad you're okay and were able to show us your story.

Watched that YouTube video of the car being brought to the junkyard. I was super impressed that the cage put up a fight against the crane's claws. Saw in another video that Hi-Speed did your cage too? They definitely did it right. Looking forward to the next few parts of this journey.

Hi-Speed Motorsports did my original cage. Done right for sure. I think the crane operator at the junkyard was surprised that initial hit didn't quite smash the car too bad. And then he proceeded to crush the thing to pieces haha. 

RyanGreener said:

Pulling that off in that short of time was nothing short of epic....always an inspiring story.

Tight timeline would have been nearly impossible if it wasn't for the help of friends and sponsors in the community. 

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/13/20 5:38 p.m.
Don49 (Forum Supporter) said:

I had a crash at NJMP coming on to the front straight when a GTL car blew its motor and dumped 7 quarts of oil. I hit the armco at 115 mph with my left front, then the left side and the left rear corner. With 6 weeks until the Mid Ohio Runoffs I didn't have time to build a new chassis. Besides front an rear suspension and body damage, the left 1/4 panel was actually bent into a curl. I was unable to pull the 1/4 back out. The fix was a 3/4 section of the left rear, replacing suspension and body panels, including shimming the rear suspension in order to align it. I made it to the Runoffs and equaled my previous lap times. Over the winter I built a new car fro a fresh tub as the car was tweaked badly enough that it would never be right. Sometimes the only right repair is to start fresh.

Oof! That is a fast corner to hit oil on. You really nailed all the corners. It is heart wrenching when you tally up the damages. Must have been a ton of overtime pulling that thing back out and making Runoffs. It is nice when you can match previous lap times even with a tweaked car. Have you been back to MidO with the new car? 

 

Polopharm said:

Oh wait, sorry I see it was before the run offs. 

Where? 

Photos look like repair was never going to be a realistic option which always sucks! 

This was at Thompson Speedway up in CT. Love the track! NER SCCA has a night race on the schedule there this year. Hoping if we are all still in lockdown it can get rescheduled. Racing under the lights sounds like alot of fun. A repair was possible but not financially feasible. We also ran the risk of not getting it perfect which can happen when a wreck is this bad. I know several friends with racecars that are tweaked from a crash. They can be fast again, but some are never quite the same. 

 

 

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
4/13/20 6:00 p.m.

On the plus side; about 15 years from now your ankle will let you know it's going to rain about 3 days in advance.

As with all racers you've kept your head down and just moved forward..............it's what makes racers special.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/13/20 9:49 p.m.

In reply to Tom1200 :

Maybe I'll have a future as a meteorologist with better accuracy! 

 

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
4/14/20 7:13 a.m.

Truth. My broken thumb is already an excellent weather barometer. The break did not carry such a glorious spectacle with it as your foot though. laugh

Don49 (Forum Supporter)
Don49 (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/14/20 7:24 a.m.

I haven't been back to Mid Ohio with the new chassis. I did have a good run at NJMP last year and the new chassis is definitely better than the old one pre-accident. I was able to match my best previous time in extremely hot and slippery conditions.

Dave M (Forum Supporter)
Dave M (Forum Supporter) HalfDork
4/14/20 8:30 a.m.

Thank you again for sharing the chronicles of your (painful) story!

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
4/14/20 9:07 a.m.

How's your foot?

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/14/20 12:02 p.m.

In reply to Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) :

Foot is doing much better. With PT, I got to ditch the cast last month and slowly working to regain mobility. This accident caused more damage than the doctors anticipated. There was a shattered bone in my midfoot they did not discover until after the Runoffs. I avoided surgery and it is healing on its own so I am very thankful for that. 

 

Don49 (Forum Supporter) said:

I haven't been back to Mid Ohio with the new chassis. I did have a good run at NJMP last year and the new chassis is definitely better than the old one pre-accident. I was able to match my best previous time in extremely hot and slippery conditions.

Jersey was HOT last year! That was the only race I ended up missing due to this crash but I did go to watch. Weekend conditions like those are brutal so it is always satisfying to match a previous PB. 

Toebra
Toebra Dork
4/15/20 11:15 p.m.

Shattered bone in your midfoot?  Easy to miss on plain films.  That is liable to give you less trouble in a stiff soled shoe, maybe with an off the shelf support.  May have issues with it swelling for a while, support stockings should help with that.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/20/20 10:00 a.m.

In reply to Toebra :

Yeah, a fracture in the medial cuneiform was missed until after Runoffs. Took an MRI to finally find it. Good tip on the stiff soled shoe. I've been wearing Birkenstocks since getting out of a cast in March. I'll look into support stockings as well!

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) UberDork
4/20/20 3:48 p.m.
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) said:

For those of you who want to see the good show at the Junkyard, I've got the video uploaded on my YouTube channel: 

It's impressive to see how well the cage stood up to the abuse from the crane, even after the car had already been crashed!

 

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