SO HERE’S WHAT
A couple of weeks back, on July 4, the O’Reilly All Star Sprinters
towed up to entertain the Quebecois at Canada’s Autodrome Granby.
That’s the ultra-popular half-miler just east of Montreal. Among
them was a 34-year-old open-wheel veteran from North Jackson, Ohio,
Jack Sodeman Jr.
Jack’s been driving sprint cars since he was
15. It’s in his genes. He’s a workingman’s racer. Along the way he’s
accumulated about 40 wins. Last year was his mightiest season, no
contest. Starting out with a total cash balance of just $5000, he
ended up with 13 checkers plus a new track record – this a 10.23-
second lap around the banked 3/8ths dirt of Skyline Speedway in
But winds will blow in sprint car racing.
Turns out Granby this year was quite the adventure.
Jack, now recovering at his parents’ home in Butler, PA, said about
it when we spoke this week:
Jack, what was in your mind when
you buckled in for that time trial?
I was psyched. Granby
is a big, D-shaped half, with great promoters and lots of
enthusiastic fans. The track looked to be in great condition with
lots of bite. I was gonna go for it.
You sure were
keeping that car straight – and your right foot didn’t move a lot.
Yeah, with those winged cars, that’s the deal, especially in
qualifying. If you get just a little loose, it will cost you a
tenth. There wasn’t any of that pitchin’ it like we did in that USAC
race recently at Lernerville without wings. I looked at that first
lap at Granby as kind of my insurance policy. I went easy and made
it nice and clean. On the second lap, I was on it. I got a little
high out of two, but that was okay. I was taking it up to the
cushion to maximize my roll speed. It felt really good going into
three. That backstretch is really a big, sweeping turn. It’s the
fastest part of the track. They clocked us at over 150 mph right
Looks to me like it couldn’t have felt really
good for too long!
Wow! It was the right front post to
the wing that broke. When it did, there was this huge snap – like a
gun shot. I heard it over the open headers, the radio, and
everything. When it let go, the car sort of sprung up from all that
weight on the left rear and it loaded onto the right front – and
over it went.
I was fully conscious for the first flip. There
was an amazing second when I saw a white flash and that was the wing
going away. After that, with all that quick-fire flipping, I guess
my blood was rushing to my head so I lost coherence. This wasn’t a
slow motion rollover like some are. This was a wingless sprint car
crash at winged speed. I was so out of it by the time the car went
way airborne, that I didn’t know I had left town, right over the
When I finally landed, I was blinded. There was only
the black of night. I knew to worry about fire. I was able to hit
the kill switch, but, for all my practice, I couldn’t even find the
fuel shut off feeling around. I told the people who got there first
to do that.
Who was there first?
comforting to hear my dad’s voice (Jack Sr., longtime sprint and mod
shoe) and Cat’s (Catherine Chong, significant other). I felt more at
ease. I guess I was a sight, especially with one eye hanging out.
Dad told me I’d feel some pressure, and he pushed it back in place
My hands and left foot were hurt, but the
biggest pain was from my right leg. Only the skin held it on below
I sure was hurting, but why shouldn’t I be after
that? The main cage was busted in three places from the violence.
Thank goodness for that Butler seat and the HANS device. And the
rescue crew was fabulous.
So, it was off to the crash
Yup. And right into surgery. They inserted a
titanium rod in my right leg and screwed it in permanently. I was in
the hospital for four days for recovery and for antibiotics to
prevent infection. I felt bad for some people like my Mom who saw
pictures of the crash before she really knew how I was.
When were you released?
The next Friday and we drove to
Butler, Pennsylvania, so I could recuperate with Mom and Dad for a
while. Got there at 5:00 in the morning on Saturday and that night I
went to Mercer (Raceway Park) to see Taylor Smith, my niece, run her
mod lite. They took up a collection for me and that was very moving.
How are you now?
I’m really doing well. I bet you’ve
read Doug Wolfgang’s book. I’m like him. I honestly believe that
once my eyesight returned, it is better than it was before the
crash. My leg is sore, but it is straight and healing well and I’ll
get through it – and without pills.
Well, you know what
I’m going to ask next.
I know and the answer is ‘of
course!’ Some people need their cocaine; I need my sprint car. And
we’re building a 305 for Cat. She needs one, too. I’ve been hurt
before. Lots of concussions. It’s part of sprint car racing.
What I am obsessed about now is my training. For a long time
I’ve worked out six days a week – weights, running, the whole thing.
In about two weeks, I think I can begin some upper body work. I know
there will be no problem with my being ready by next spring. But
lately I have been thinking a little about maybe late fall…
He’ll have to start from scratch with the car…
and Cat. (Cory Stivason Photo)
work, leaning on that left rear. (Cory Stivason Photo)
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181