Published in the December 2020 issue of “Porsche Profile”
Ⓒ2020 Technolab / PedrosGarage.com
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... but I love Sebring!
As I start my preparations for the 2021 48 Hours at Sebring (under COVID-19 Protocols), my memory recalls what happened one year ago, on my way to the 2020 48 hours.
I’ve said it (in previous articles) and I’ll repeat it here: Sebring hates my car!
If you’ve read my other Sebring-related articles you’ll remember how my car has:
• lost clutch function (slave cylinder gave up the ghost)
• had a full coolant leak
• blown out the plastic rear window on the convertible top
• blown the engine (lack of lubrication – cylinder 5)
I had convinced myself that I wasn’t being singled out because a bunch of other people also had issues at Sebring.
A wise man once asked:
“Do you know why there’s the 24 Hours of LeMans and the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, but only the 12 Hours of Sebring …
...‘cause there ain’t a car nor driver that can last 13 at Sebring!
Those things had happened to my car some 10 and 12 years ago.
Fast forward to 2020. I’m heading to my favorite track, you guessed it, Sebring.
This time not to run but to work.
I am Chair of Tech & Impound for the 48 Hours at Sebring PCA Club Race. My co-Chair and I are responsible for providing support to the National Club Racing Team (Scrutineers and Stewards). We have to organize and run the Tech & Impound which includes, among others running the scales for the racers. In order to do that we arrive early to make sure that all is in order, including the “circus tent” under which we operate.
Having packed the digital scales and all other necessary equipment the night before, I hook up the little track trailer to my Boxster and head down to Sebring.
It’s 9:30 AM on Wednesday morning in late January, 2020.
A beautiful day if ever there was one. Cool 60ºF weather and not a cloud in the sky.
I stop in my driveway and decide to put the top down. I also don my favorite PedrosGarage orange hat, and finally take off. Traffic is light on SR54 as I make my way east towards I-75. The same is true for I-75 heading south. I quickly come to the speed limit and set the cruise control. All is good, I think to myself, and settle into my comfy, well-worn driver’s seat.
About 10 minutes after, as I run in the leftmost of the three lanes, the car in the center lane, just ahead of me runs over some debris on the road and lifts it in the air. I instinctively raise my right foot and hover it over the brake pedal even though it looked like a harmless piece of cardboard which now flies onto my lane. I hear a loud WHACK! (I guess it’s not a piece of cardboard) but nothing else happens so I relax a bit.
All of the sudden everything goes dark!
I can’t see a thing and something hit me VERY hard on top of my head!
I feel dazed but the instinctive spatial awareness ingrained by many, many hours on the track tells my brain that it’s OK to get on the brakes and turn left to get off the road. There was no one immediately behind, so I do that, still not being able to see forward.
As I finally come to a stop in the median, I open the door to get out of the car, and I catch a look of my face in the rearview mirror.
The right side of my face is literally covered in blood, which is still flowing but what my brain focuses on is my missing hat. I get out of the car and immediately start looking for my hat. Searching the road toward the north I finally see a speck of orange on the median, next to the guardrail about 150 yards behind and immediately head out to retrieve my hat. I get out there, pick it up but decide not to put it on because of all the blood and head back to the car to figure out what happened and if it’s drivable.
I walk in front of the car and finally realize what has happened.
The debris was a piece of 3/16” plywood that first hit my right headlight, breaking it and then lodging itself between the top edge of the front bumper and the hood. At 75 mph it must have moved towards the center and released the security latch and the main latch, sending the hood towards the windshield as if it were a parachute.
The two gas struts did nothing to stop the hood’s movement. They were both sheared in two. When the hood hit the top of the windshield, the protruding 24 inches or so bent it back and that’s what whacked me on the head. The metal Porsche crest was what cut my head (I think). At the same time the two sun visors were smashed as well as the two mesh windscreens inside the roll hoops and the clear windstop between them!
I am convinced that I am here writing about it because 10 years before I had replaced my steel front hood with a carbon fibre one (saved 25 lbs). That’s why it didn’t break the windshield and didn’t crack my skull! I owe my life to carbon fibre!
I start to wonder how am I going to get the car back and then it occurs to me that maybe the carbon fibre can be bent back and maybe the latch can hook. To my surprise, although the structural underside of the hood is mush, the top layer is intact after I straighten it and I managed to close it with a click! Wow!
Now the adrenaline is wearing off and the pain is setting in. I get in my car, find a micro-fiber towel and press it onto my head to try to stop the bleeding. I’m thinking clearer now but my head really hurts.
For a moment I think about returning home but quickly come to my senses knowing that there is much to be done and many people depend on me and the equipment I’m bringing to the track.
I decide to keep going and look for a walk-in clinic to take care of the head wound.
As I arrive in Bartow I see a Walk-In Clinic, pull in, walk through the glass doors and before I say anything the lady at the counter says: “We can’t treat you here. You need to go to the ER! Should I call 911 for you?”
I said: “I just want you to see if I need stitches because I can’t see the top of my head”.
They emphatically said that any head trauma needs an ER which will be better equipped.
So, I get back in my car, still holding the bloody towel on my head, and get back on the road, looking for the next ER.
I finally get to the town of Sebring and check into the main Hospital to get my head looked at since I was still bleeding.
They check me in, I wait 15-20 minutes and the doctor and nurse come to see me. The doctor checks me out, glues the top of my head together because she says stitches wouldn’t hold and decides to run a CT Scan of my head. They put me in a wheelchair and roll me into the Radiology Suite and run the Scan, then they wheel me back to the ER.
As I’m waiting for the results, the nurse and I chit-chat a bit. I’m anxious to get out of the hospital and she asks where I’m going in such a hurry.
I say: “Sebring!” She then says: “Honey … you are at Sebring!” And I say: “I mean the racetrack at Sebring”. She then asked if I was a racer and as I’m about to answer, another nurse opens the curtain and beckons my nurse over. A few minutes later she returns and says: “Honey, I got good news for you: If you’re a racer you don’t need no helmet, ‘cause you’s got a haaaard head! Everything looks good and you can get back on the road.”
After that, I was able to check out and make the short drive over to the track. I get there just as the gates are opening to let the teams in.
Other than a bad headache over the whole event, I was fine.
I still have the scar where no hair grows and I think that I probably have the Porsche crest embossed backwards on my head for the rest of my life. People pay a lot of money to get it on their seat’s headrest. I got mine for free!
But, at the time, who knew that this incident would be just the beginning of the infamous year of 2020!
Here’s hoping for a great and healthy 2021!