Driver Brad Neff's blog
post from 3 June 2006:
"Well… after three race seasons and 30 SCCA races, on June 3rd, 2006, I finally met that concrete wall I’d been trying so hard to avoid all these years… and I met it in a big way. Short story is that car is trashed and driver is fine, though a little sore. For all my fellow racers and DE enthusiasts, I’d like to share the experience and some lessons learned on safety gear while it is still fresh in my mind.
The race started well and I spent the first few laps following much slower cars around familiarizing myself with a track on which I had no experience. Around race lap five or so, a three car wreck at the front of the field brought out a full course yellow which lasted for about five more laps. These slow laps helped me further familiarize myself with the track. On the restart I was feeling very comfortable on the track, but still had no intentions of driving really quickly. I got around a slow GT1 car and settled in behind an AS class Camaro for about two laps watching his line. I was well within my comfort zone and driving at what I would call 7/10ths – about my typical DE zone.
A long sweeping 180 leads to front “straight” at Pacific Raceways. Shortly into the front “straight” is a flat out right hander (turn 9) taken as the car is accelerating through 100 mph, with a concrete wall as the apex. Though fast and bumpy, the corner appeared to be fairly benign despite the concrete apex and I was very comfortable in the turn. Since the turn is at about 100-105 mph, it is right in that area of the 3-4 shift (my rev limiter is higher than stock). I tried the corner a few times holding the shift until after the apex but the speed and rpm was pretty high and having lost a timing chain in 2004, I was leery of those rpms, so I tried short shifting to 4th. On the lucky 13th lap, I shifted a little bit later than I had the previous laps, which was right in the area of a pretty bumpy part of the track. As soon as I started to let out the clutch the rears locked up, the nose pitched right and I knew I was doomed. Though I’ve never grabbed 2nd on a 3-4 shift before, I suspect that I did in this case. I had about four car lengths at 100-105 mph to watch the concrete wall come to meet the right front corner of the car. I went both feet in and counter steered to the left but there just wasn’t time to miss the wall. Just before impact I loosened my grip on the wheel and relaxed. The impact was horrendous and even worse, my wife and daughters were literally 10 ft away in the grandstands. Fortunately, although I went straight into the wall at about 100 mph, the wall was at about a 60 degree angle to my direction of motion so the car didn’t stop completely and bounced off the wall to the other side of the track. Somehow the left front tire still had enough grip that I was able to steer it and park it off the track along the guardrail on the outside of the track. I’m told a yellow never even came out as I was off the track. I sat there a second taking stock, realized I was okay and somehow the car was still running. Turned it off, killed the accusump and tranny cooler pump, tried calling my wife on the radio but it was dead, so I climbed out quickly to let her know I was fine.
- Even driving well within your comfort zone, the track is a dangerous place.
- Safety gear: Having the proper safety gear is critical as you certainly don’t plan on hitting a wall and when you do it will likely be totally unexpected. I have a Cobra Suzuka Kevlar racing seat, a Simpson six point harness and a HANS device, all of which was professionally installed by
Phoenix Performance. More on each below.
- Seat: My Cobra Suzuka Kevlar racing seat has slots for the lap belts, shoulder straps and the anti-sub straps and very deep side bolsters. The impact was a slight passenger side front quarter, and I feel my seat did a great job positioning the belts holding me in place.
- Lap belt: The lap belts are mounted to hardpoints on the frame and tunnel. The lap belt should be mounted and tightened so that it is on the hip bones vice up on your stomach. Mine was and I suffered no stomach injuries and no bruises on my hips.
- Anti-sub straps: My anti-sub straps come up through a slot on the seat and each side mounts to a bolt through the floor pan to the steel rail running under the driver’s seat. I felt the impact hard in the groin and thus feel that without an anti-sub strap, or with an anti-sub strap draped over the front of the seat vice through a slot, I would have submarined somewhat down towards the dash and pedals.
- Shoulder straps: The shoulder straps are mounted to the roll cage behind the seat. The harness spread most of the impact over my whole rib cage and I have no bruises or soreness in my chest.
- HANS device: I will never go out on a track again without a HANS device. When I hit the wall I felt my head snap forward hard and then stop as the straps on the HANS device stopped further forward motion. Today the most soreness I have is my lower rear neck muscles.
- Helmet: I have a Simpson Kevlar racing helmet with built in HANS device mounting points. As my HANS device stopped the helmet, my head kept going at around 100 mph. I feel sizing is critical. My helmet fits very snugly and as soon as the helmet stopped, the foam inside the helmet started stopping my head. Today I have a little bit of soreness on my temples where the majority of the impact of my head stopping against the helmet occurred.
- Shift points: Before yesterday, I never would have thought that a missed shift could’ve put me in a wall. My biggest concern would have been over revving the motor. After yesterday, I caution everyone to carefully consider shift points. I will not shift again in a corner with concrete. I will either short shift prior to turn-in, or shift after the car is straight on exit.
I’d like to thank Fred Lux, the crew chief for Cindi Lux, along with the whole Naykid team, who helped a fabulous tow truck driver put my dead car on my open air trailer. Not having to deal with loading my car on the trailer allowed me to spend a few minutes with my wife and daughters and calm them down. How they all got my car perfectly on the trailer is beyond me.
I’d also like to thank fellow Z06 owner Bob R, who came out to watch, for also helping get the car on the tow truck and then the trailer and consoled me after the wreck, helping me keep perspective. Thanks Bob.
And finally, I'd like to thank all of my fellow racers for their outpouring of support as news of the crash has spread. The brotherhood of the racing community never ceases to amaze me.