What to Do When You Crash at a Track Day
No one expects to crash at a track day. Here’s what to do if that happens.
Can’t Happen Here
Everyone here has probably watched a track day fail video or two, and as innately disturbing as the sound of crunching metal is, it’s true what they say about it being hard to look away from a car crash. After the first few shunts it’s somehow therapeutic, maybe because of the build-up and release of tension, or possibly because we feel more alive for having escaped tragedy ourselves. But not everyone is so lucky, and even the best will eventually kiss a wall if they push it hard enough.
We’re narrowing our focus to the most common type of track day mishap—you’re in your car, you’ve just smacked a fixed object, no other cars are involved, and you appear not to be hurt. You’re stunned, and your head is likely swimming with adrenaline-soaked thoughts. What do you do next?
Unless your car is on fire, stay right where you are: belted in. It’s common for other drivers to pay too much attention to your incident and lose focus enough to have one of their own. It’s safer in your (safety-gear equipped) car than it is out where other speeding cars can hit you.
The next thing to do is take advantage of the people who were put there for cases just like yours—track safety workers. Depending on the track, there maybe be enough personnel to both flag other cars and also to send an individual over to help you. If your car has a window net put it down to signal flaggers that you are conscious and reasonably coherent. A thumbs-up signal also carries the same message. When a recovery team reaches you, you may want to ask them whether you should exit the car or not. If they are towing you back to the pits you’ll likely need to stay in the car with your foot lightly on the brake in order to keep slack out of the tow line.
Get Looked At
Once you’ve been towed or trucked out of harm’s way, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Do not diagnose yourself! You may feel fine but that could change without warning. Be honest with EMTs when they examine you to determine if you’re concussed. If they tell you to see a doctor follow their advice. A second cranial impact can be fatal to a person who has just experienced a concussion. Medics will tell you this and follow their advice: don’t use alcohol or take any sedatives the day after an impact. Concussions can sometimes be difficult to diagnose and depressant will only worsen your condition. It’s also common advice to stay awake for a while after the accident, not to nap or sleep—again, heed the professional’s advice.
So now that you're out of the way. Now for the car. Since you’re probably not driving your car out of there—unless you trailered the car, it rolls, and you have a winch—you’re going to have to make arrangements to get the car at a later date. Before you leave, find out how to contact the track officials responsible for releasing your car from storage when you send a towing company to pick it up.
Deal with the Carnage
If your car is repairable, the best thing to do is bypass insurance completely and pay for repairs out of your own pocket. If it is totaled do not do what some autocrossers have tried to do—don’t have it towed someplace else and fake an accident. Not only is lying to the police unwise and defrauding insurance companies is no joke—they’re smart and patient and the risk is not worth any possible reward. Making payments, or defaulting on a loan for, a daily driver that’s history is still better than losing everything when corporate lawyers come for you. This is 2018, if your car or phone didn’t automatically report the crash, then the numerous cameras that doubtlessly recorded the incident will, if not sooner, then not late enough.
Call a Lawyer, Make a Decision
Before you give in to grief, and loss, contact an attorney who knows auto insurance inside and out. Your policy will help them ascertain if in fact there is still a chance your loss is recoverable. A key factor is whether you were competing or not. A key factor in competition is often whether you were being timed. Many instructors will counsel their students not to record lap times, not only can it push you beyond your limits, it can make you liable for an accident. Your attorney will inform you what your liability is so you know where you stand with your insurance company.
The last step is whether to get back on your horse or hang it up. It’s best to give this decision sometime—wait until you’ve recovered from the event and the loss. Once you are on firm ground again you’ll know whether you can’t keep away from the track or if you can do without speed and its potential risks. If you decide to get back out there it’s important to take an honest look at the circumstances around your incident—mistakes can be identified and minimized. People say racing is life, and in a way making it through tough times and coming out the other side wiser really is.