How breaking my wrist made me a better driver
"I've never seen that before" the doctor said in surprise as I showed her a slow-mo on-board video of the crash which left me sitting in her hospital room, arm in a sling. I didn't realise at that point how serious the injury was or how long it would take me to recover.
Two hours earlier I was starting from pole position at the UK's fastest race track, Thruxton, in my farewell race to the Toyota MR2 Championship which had started my car racing career (/hobby?). I'd set the lap record in the previous race, smashing the fastest lap with only one other driver out of 30 able to get within a second of my time. Over 93mph average speed. Easy win right? Well all I had to do was get off the line.
The 1st-2nd gear change was always tough in that car, and right on cue I missed the first attempt, immediately dropping to 4th place and hugging the inside to stay out the way. With one hand on the wheel and one hand on the gear stick ready for the 2nd-3rd shift, I was hit across the nose. Hard. Now pointing the wall at 70mph, I frantically tried to unwind the wheel to avoid the inevitable collision, but it wasn't enough. When I hit the wall there was a deafening crunch of metal, sparks flying, and my hand being twisted around by the steering wheel in a way you could only manage by breaking something. I immediately recoiled my hand in pain but the crash wasn't over yet... now all but fully out of control I bounced off the wall, into the drivers door of another car and began to spin across the track in front of 20+ cars approaching unsighted at over 80mph. 3 cars already with severe damage. By some miracle, all the others avoided me, and after some dancing on the pedals I came out of the pirouette rolling forwards again and heading towards the edge of the track and out the way.
I didn't get out; I was still holding my hand in pain. Cabin full of tyre smoke, bonnet covered in broken glass from another car and engine still running until the marshals reached me to turn it off and put me in the ambulance. I looked back at the car as we walked off and insisted it would still drive so they didn't need to tow it away - and carried on by telling them that as the race had now been red flagged, I could take the restart. "No mate, you're getting in the ambulance".
Talk about a fall from grace. It took far longer than it should have, but eventually I found out that I had broken a bone in my wrist, base of my hand and done a heap of soft tissue damage. Not only would I be out of action for a long time... but if I didn't rehabilitate my wrist properly, I would never race again. Shit thing to face for a 25y.o. wannabe race driver. It hit me hard. This was my first proper crash, and my first racing injury. They say it goes one of two ways the first time you hurt yourself racing...
You have a sudden realisation of mortality and danger which strips you of your previous feeling of invincibility while driving - meaning you are never the same and never as quick... or You work hard to recover, now knowing the consequences of a crash, and therefore face the possibility of having one with the knowledge that if something happens, you can deal with it. This gives you more confidence, removes an element of fear of the unknown, and in turn gives you another level to reach. It took a couple months, but once could drive again, it was the latter. When we raced at the Birkett Relay nearly 3 months later, my hand and wrist were still strapped up and giving me hell, but I was faster than I'd ever been. In my first kart race back I may have had rusty race craft, but I was on lead pace for the first time ever on those tyres I never got on with. Both after not having driven for 1/4 of a year.
6 months on now and there's still a few things I struggle with - but racing isn't one of them. Knowing you can come back from a crash gives far more confidence than knowing you've never had one...