After a Crash, Part 1: Three Types of Wrecks

christinaylam
By christinaylam
Apr 8, 2020 | Safety, Crashing | Posted in Safety , Features | Never miss an article

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.

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Comments
Patrick
Patrick GRM+ Memberand 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) GRM+ Memberand 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 ...

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