Here is a great story from the ARCA Midwest Tour that we wanted to pass along to our fans.
The Calm After The Storm: Rebuilding A Car After A Horrific Crash
by Gregg Paul
Every race driver in the ARCA Midwest Tour presented by SCAG Power Equipment and Lester Buildings knows the risks that are inherent to the sport of auto racing. While the cars are indeed much safer nowadays than they have ever been, there is no way to make them 100% injury proof. There are still many times when drivers feel extremely fortunate to escape injury when they are involved in a crash.
The most helpless and frightening feeling a driver can have is when you are barreling down the straightaway at well over one hundred miles per hour and you realize that your throttle is stuck. For i-gogs Sunglasses Touring Star Jeff Storm, he recently had to experience that helpless feeling while racing at the Madison International Speedway in advance of the Border Wars 150 Part II.
Storm recalls what happened and described how little he could do to avoid the carnage and how little time he had to react.
“Maybe a second and a half before it happened,” said Storm. “With the four barrels (carburetors) on at Madison you’ve got to drive it a little different so I was looking on backing the corner up so I lifted a little bit earlier than normal. Then I was like “Holy Cow!” and I tried to get under it with my toe, the throttle and pull it back. There was nothing…nothing doing. I held the brake and I just let go of the steering wheel. There was nothing that I could do. I was hoping it stayed in the park, which it did. No one got hurt. Parts can be fixed.”
The long and almost deathly straight skid marks trailed behind Storm’s car as it hurtled towards the wall. However in the battle between a race car and a solid concrete wall, the race car is always the loser. There was a deafening thud as Storm’s car slammed into the turn one wall and began to shred parts as it careened down the track. Once Storm’s car came to rest in the middle of turns one and two, parts were still rolling past his now still car.
Through all of that one has to wonder what was going through Storm’s mind at that point.
“I thought, my God, I’ve never hit that hard,” said Storm. “I thought pfffft, there’s nothing going to be left of this thing. We still weren’t even sure once we got this thing back here Sunday night and got it on the lift. We got sick of looking at it and just went home.”
As the parts continued to roll by after the crash, so did the car of fellow driver and i-gogs Sunglasses Touring Star Rich Bickle. Bickle drove his car through all that debris right up to Storm’s car to check to see if he was ok. A move that was not lost on Storm.
“I was floored,” exclaimed Storm. “Just about everybody came over. I tell you, when that thing landed and I’m sliding down the track and you see my right front suspension rolling down…I see here’s Bickle. Drives through all that crap, running over parts and drives right up next to the door and see if I’m alright. That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that. I have a whole new respect for that guy.”
There were other drivers strapped into their cars awaiting their turn at the track for practice who immediately got out of their cars to check to see if Storm was alright. Something that showed Storm that despite the hostilities that sometimes permeates the race track, drivers actually do care about the well being of their fellow competitors.
“I got out and went into the ambulance, and when they let me out of there I grabbed some parts and threw them on the rollback,” said Storm. “I grabbed my helmet and walked down the hill and here’s everybody out of their stuff, obviously there was going to be a delay, but it was pretty impressive. All the drivers coming over, making sure you’re alright you know. Heck, I didn’t know if I was alright but seeing the safety equipment, everything is fine. I was a little sore and a little beat up, but as far as them guys it was pretty cool. I’ve raced with most of them a pretty long time. Most of them longer than they’ve been around, but it was really nice to see that. It meant a lot to me.”
The other nice thing to see was that the car wasn’t nearly as bad as it initially looked like it would be.
“We got back after it on Monday,” said Storm. “We got it apart and I was surprised. Really surprised. I’ve got to commend Pathfinder for that one. It was bad enough but I really thought we lost the whole chassis. It bent where it was supposed to bend and folded up where it was supposed to fold up. The main cage, that portion of it held up good, so we were able to repair it.”
The car was relatively new, but it actually is on its third complete rebuild already.
“We built this car new here in the winter of 2011, so it was a brand new car for 2012,” said Storm. “We ran it all year and had a halfway decent year, obviously a few growing pains with it switching from a Lefthander to a Pathfinder chassis which is what I had prior. We broke the track record at LaCrosse for Oktoberfest and we made it almost a lap and there was a big wreck there and I was in it, of course. So we ripped it down this winter and redid everything. This is the third time we’re building this same darn car. It’s getting old! Getting real old!”
It might be getting old, but much to everyone’s surprise the car will live to race another day. Storm expects the car to be ready for the Border Wars II on Sunday August 11th. The car currently sits in relatively decent shape awaiting delivery of some parts that still need to be added to make the car race-able.
“Pretty much all the suspension components are all being replaced,” said Storm. “The right front corner. The left front corner was fine. Both right side shocks, you’ve got the front and the rear. The rear end I just went through and got that back up in there. The fuel cell is ok. Most of the interior, the dash, the right side stuff. Obviously a stub, right side rail, right side door bars, the X bars on the right side have all been replaced. Power steering rack, the radiator. We just got the motor back here about a week ago and that was actually ok. There were some pulleys and stuff we needed to replace on it, fuel pump and that kind of stuff, but that’s quite a bit.”
Not one to tempt fate, Storm even replaced the safety equipment.
“We replaced the seat belts and the HANS stuff,” said Storm. “You look at this stuff and it looks fine, but I don’t want to find out it’s bad. Something like that happens and you just go through everything, look at it as close as you can and if it needs to be replaced it needs to be replaced. If that means we’re going to be done for the year, well then we’re going to be done for the year. It doesn’t mean that I am going to cut any corners to put it back together just to be out there. It’s not worth it. Not to me anyways. I like to do stuff right. It’s costly but it’s got to be done.”
It’s got to be done, but Storm doesn’t exactly have a NASCAR sized crew to help him get the work done.
“You know what I got?” asked Storm. “Not a huge crew but I do have guys that know what is going on. James Straube, he does most of all the body and all the interior stuff. With the core group of guys we got we could probably take the thing apart and put it back together in our sleep. Those guys are awesome. I’d like to name them all if I could. Randy Gelden does our tires for us. Nate Bierer, he’s been with me for I think he came aboard in ’04 or ’03. Dave Edwards, who races in the Big 8 Series, he came up with one of his crew guys Todd Luedtke. Monday night we had the thing stripped down to nothing. I’ve got my dad Russ out there working right now. He helped me get the motor out on Monday and delivered the chassis for me on Tuesday to Pathfinder. Dan Kimball and Russ Blakely also help out.”
Considering all the work that still needs to be done, will the car be ready for the race at Madison?
“Absolutely,” said Storm. “Hook or crook I’ll be there with this car. I just got off the phone with Jeff Neal with Quartermaster and those guys went above the call to help me out to get this thing put back together. Performance Stainless up in Appleton just did my headers for me. Dean’s up there with AEC doing the engine program for us. Those guys don’t mess around. Pathfinder Chassis, Joe Wood and Jason Schuler up there. We took the car up there on a Tuesday night and I picked it up basically 24 hours later and hauled it back down here. They are outstanding people.”
When the time finally comes to get that car back on the track, the very same track where it was nearly destroyed, will Storm have any apprehensions as he barrels down the same straightaway and sees the skid marks he left before slamming into the wall?
“If I am then I don’t belong in there,” said Storm. “I’ll tell you right now if I am at all I’ll get out and we’ll put somebody else in it. I highly doubt it. I was there Sunday watching the races. Was it nerve wracking looking down there seeing those black marks going up to the wall? Absolutely. You can’t be scared. If you’re going to second guess yourself at all…obviously you don’t throw caution to the wind but I’m not changing anything that I ever did or will do with the car. My biggest thing that I pray for and beg for is the knowledge to know which adjustments to make to make this thing better. As far as being nervous or uneasy going back to Madison, absolutely not. I better not be. If I am then there is an issue.”
It seems that the only issue remaining is whether or not Storm or anyone else for that matter can finally put an end to the nine race winning streak by Travis Sauter at MIS. That is where the only apprehensions lie.
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