Destroying something you love sucks. On June 3, 2020, I picked up my FR-S from Blackops Auto Pro after receiving a full paint correction and ceramic coating. On June 28, 2020, I delivered my FR-S directly into a tire wall exiting turn five at Summit Point.
Twenty-five days is all it took for my car to go from better-than-new condition to totaled.
The feeling is very hard to express. Most people aren’t gearheads - and even out of those that are, most haven’t formed a real attachment to a car. They’re fascinating little projects that come and go.
When I was very little - maybe two or three years old, my parents got rid of an ugly old chair that had resided in our dining room. If memory serves me correct, it was a hideous yellow recliner, tattered and reinforced with aged duct tape. It was just a chair. There was nothing measurably or even sentimentally valuable about it - but to my toddling self it was a fine chair that I had never experienced life without, so I plead for its poor life to my mom as my dad chopped it to bits next to the house to fit it in the trash can.
Ok, I’d like to think my FR-S was a little more special than that unredeemable old chair (and was certainly in better shape). Even as adults, we can form that child-like attachment to something eternally insignificant. But at the end of the day, it’s just a car created to be mass-produced and sold to bolster Toyota’s brand image and investors’ pockets.
Yeah, but this one was mine - and not just one car randomly chosen out of a sequence of neat toys, but the first car I ever owned, my daily driver, the car that connected me to many of my closest friends that I have today, the car that got me into motorsports, the car that I got my first (and only! knocks on wood) speeding ticket in, the car that I learned to wrench on, the car that I got in my first accident in, the car that took me on adventures to Florida, Vermont, Kentucky, and everywhere in between, the car I slept in when I drove down to South Carolina to see the solar eclipse on a whim, the car that was my artistic canvas, the car that was my mobile photographic subject, the car I dumped way too much money into, the car that I brought to dozens upon dozens of car meets, the car that I slept in the night before I met Ruby, the car that I sweat bullets in for eight hours on my trip to propose to her, and the car that my friends decorated for us to drive away in on the day that she told me “I do”.
And even after all of that, it’s just a car.
This sort of back-and-forth over whether it’s just a car or something more is exactly what went through my head on repeat for the following days, weeks, and even months after I wrecked this car.
So - how’d it happen? I’ll let the video tell the tale.
I was having an awesome weekend. Summit Point’s Main Circuit feels like it was built for a car like this. The front straight runs roughly .6 miles while the remaining 1.4 miles of the 2 mile road course are filled with gratuitous turns and elevation changes. In the front stretch I was pointing cars by all day - it’s no secret that the FR-S is not known for its power. On the rest of the course, however, the car thrived. Typically, by turn five I would be closing in on someone - and there wasn’t a single lap where I wasn’t closely following another car by turn seven.
Seven of eight sessions into the weekend, I finally got that break. In the lap prior, I was able to pass a Camaro SS, a WRX STI, and a Fiesta ST, such that there was not a single car in front of me. This was going to be a great lap.
I began to accelerate out of turn five at the apex - first tracking out on the right, and then tracking left as soon as possible to get a good entry into turn six. Unfortunately, my eager right foot led my rear tires to lose traction and the car began to rotate left too far. Textbook mistake. As soon as the tires had audibly protested what I had asked of them, it was too late - the nature of this being a hairpin turn meant there was little to no run-off. I braked hard to shed what little speed I could and braced myself.
Hard impact into the tire wall. That feeling will be forever ingrained in my memory - some feeling in the tongue and the back of my neck. The car continued to rotate and even twisted in the air. In the moment, I thought the car was going to flip.
Ruby and her dad watched from the stands and were able to see the entire bottom of the car as it flew through the air. (And she still lets me race today - I couldn’t ask for a better wife)
Finally, the car slammed to the ground with the rear bumper against the tire wall. I immediately cut the ignition. If there was any fire from the accident, I wouldn’t want to be pumping 93 octane to it.
I gave a thumbs up out the window to let my wife and the corner worker (who was behind me out of view) know I was ok, and remained in my car as the rest of the field drove by.
EMS arrived and asked me where I was. Confused, I answered “turn five?” before realizing this is the race track equivalent of asking your buddy who just got a concussion “how many fingers am I holding up?” Once the track was cold, I was allowed to get out and walked over to a truck that would carry me back into the paddock.
This was the first event NASA Mid-Atlantic hosted during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there hadn’t yet been a vaccine, we knew you can’t transmit a virus from car-to-car contact, so the event carried on with the caveat that there was no in-car instruction. Instructors were to drive on track with the students in the HPDE session and recap once we came back into the paddock. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s what we had to do at the time.
My instructor this weekend was Hoyt Brown. Hoyt and I have become close friends since this incident - you could say our friendship was my consolation prize. Hoyt, a seasoned instructor and holder of an “Instructor of the Year” trophy assures me that had he been in the passenger seat, this probably wouldn’t have happened.
But that’s all water under the bridge, and while I wish I could point to an oil slick or mechanical failure to blame, at the end of the day the error was mine.
Before stepping out of the car I expected the damage to be far, far worse. As it would turn out, tire walls are quite effective at cushioning impact. My airbag didn’t even go off, surprisingly.
It doesn’t actually look that bad, does it?
While it appears much better than the video would have you believe, there was a little bit of damage…everywhere.
The TWS T66-F wheel in the photo above is ruined beyond repair. The driver’s door gap with the rear quarter panel implied frame damage underneath. The hard impact after being airborne meant the driver’s side strut tower is warped and the pillowball went straight through its housing at the top of the coilover destroying the Raceseng CasCam plate in the process.
Down the passenger side of the car, the door is ruined, the rocker panel was bent up, and even the gas cap was dented. Every panel had something going on, but the frame tweaking was by far the biggest problem.
Despite all of the damage, I was glad that I hadn’t taken anyone out in the wreck or hurt myself phyiscally. At the end of the previous season Ruby had convinced me to upgrade my helmet. It hadn’t actually played a role in this accident, as it wasn’t nearly that bad, but I was still thankful for it. I avoid spending money wherever possible, but this investment was worthwhile.
Speaking of finances, how does this work out? Does my normal insurance company cover accidents on track?
No. Thankfully, however, I had purchased Lockton HPDE insurance for the weekend (this is not a sponsored bit). I was nervous about going through the insurance process, but it ended up being relatively painless, unlike the experience I had with State Farm in a road accident a few years prior where I was pretty sure my representative had either gone on a three-week vacation or had died.
First, I had to figure out how to get this car off of Summit Point’s property. The NASA family is awesome, and time trials driver Brian Clarke, whom I had never met, came over and generously offered to tow it with his truck and trailer and park it in front of his house just a few miles away until I got everything sorted.
So, on it went.
After unloading the car at Brian’s house, I grabbed my dash cam and my shift knob out of the car and told him I’d get his new lawn ornament sorted out as soon as possible.
And that was that. After five years of owning the car and building all of these incredible memories with it, we unceremoniously drove away to probably never see it again.
It felt horrible, but what else could I have done? It’s a car, and it sucks, but this is how cars sometimes die.
It wasn’t all bad, though. When one door closes, another one opens. I had tried the whole “daily your racecar” thing unsuccessfully, so I went on to replace my FR-S with two cars - a 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata M-Edition to flog on track, and a five speed 2009 Toyota Yaris to daily drive.
I did end up seeing my FR-S again, though. One of my oldest and closest friends Eddie Morris and I dragged the car from Maryland to DRP Collision in Powhatan, VA for the damage to get appraised. They returned a very hefty repair estimate and the title was branded “totaled”.
The only rational action was to cut the cord and move on. So naturally, I purchased my FR-S back from the insurance company to have it rebuilt.
Stay tuned for Part IV.
Some things you just don’t let go of. ❤