Everyone at Canandaigua, New York’s Land of Legends Speedway held their breath Saturday night as one of their favorites held on for the wildest ride of his racing career. Phelps, New York driver Justin Haers took a frightening tumble in the third turn of the track during hot laps for the weekly show, with his No. 3 Big-Block Modified ultimately landing hard on the clay.
Haers was able to extricate himself from his car but later made the trip to a local hospital for evaluation. In addition to suffering a swollen right eye and being very sore, Haers was diagnosed with a concussion.
Speed51.com spoke with Haers Tuesday afternoon following a trip to the doctor’s office. While the Dirt Modified veteran is still recovering, each passing day brings improvement.
“Every day the soreness seems to go away a bit more and I’m getting better,” Haers said.
Recalling the freak accident, Haers is still not entirely sure what occurred, but has an idea after seeing a recording of what happened.
“I’m not 100% sure, but looking at the video I think that part of the car dug into the race track,” Haers told Speed51.com. “There was a rut there that I had not seen because I wasn’t up in that part of the track yet. It was up over the cushion. I went in purposefully above the cushion to try and get around the guys in front of me. The rim or part of the frame rail dug-in and sent me flying.”
This is not the first time Haers has had to deal with concussion symptoms, playing football in his school days. While originally intent on moving to his backup car to stay in the points hunt at Canandaigua, he soon realized that it was definitely a time for discretion over valor.
“I was released that next morning at 5 a.m. they did CAT scans. I got out of the car on my own power. I was still very sore but on a lot of adrenaline, which helps you get out of those situations,” Haers explained. “Deep down inside I wanted to break out my backup car and keep racing. When you’re born into this thing, that’s your first instinct. But health-wise I knew my vision was a little messed up. I’ve had concussions before from football, so I knew what that’s like and what could happen, so I thought it was best to go to the hospital. Things are different now that I have a family and two kids, so I wanted to make sure my health was okay.”
Through the physical and mental pain of the last few days has come a welcoming wave of support for Haers from his friends, competitors, fans, and the Northeast dirt racing community. It has been an outpouring that has Haers counting many great blessings.
“It’s amazing, I’ve raced for a long time, but I’m not what I consider a professional racer,” he commented. “I have a family business. The outpour has been incredible. Dale McDowell, people that I’ve watched race for years, I’ve known Dale McDowell from working with Tim McCreadie. The outpour from fans, racers, promoters, owners. It makes me feel good that I have touched somebody from just saying hello.”
Haers also admits that he was lucky that the crash occurred this season, because a year ago things might have been much worse.
“I’m very fortunate that I walked away. I’m so thankful that DIRTcar made us wear head and neck restraints this year, because I never wore one before this year. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it wasn’t that couldn’t afford it. It was because I thought maybe it was too much around me as I’m trying to drive. I have a big neck, I’m a big kid, I’ve lifted weights my whole life, I played college football. But for me to get banged around like that is pretty crazy.”
As for his race car, it is too banged up to turn a wheel again, but it ensured that Haers will drive another day.
“Thank you to Bicknell Racing Products for making a car that was safe. The roll cage doesn’t have a scratch on it after going upside down and rolling as many times as I did. The car is junk. But the roll cage did what it was supposed to.”
While the early prognosis for Haers is positive, he will be going in for more checkups before returning to the driver’s seat. As for when, Haers is hoping that it could be as soon as Saturday at Canandaigua, but only if he passes the tests once again and feels up to it.
“I saw my primary care doctor today,” Haers said. “He did an evaluation and said that I’m lucky that I’m as tough as I am. Passed every test he gave me, from vision to touching my toes. Everything he made me do. I’m hoping to be back in the car this weekend, but I got to go back for another evaluation on Friday to be sure. He knows I can go on and do it now, he just doesn’t want me getting another concussion and risking permanent damage. I love racing, but ultimately after racing I want to make sure I can still do all the things I normally do.”
As for the racing side, Haers’ championship hopes at Canandaigua have taken a massive hit after missing Saturday’s feature. Going forward, he will be pursuing wins at his home track with his remaining car and will look to rebuild for the rest of the season, including another part-time schedule with the Super DIRTcar Series.
“We’ve been consistent, but it can definitely get better. We’ve been working on things to get better, the car we have been experimenting on is now junk. But our other car is just as good, probably better actually because we got it figured out. So, we’ll break that one out and go back at them.”
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: LeEtta Knaak / Justin Haers Fan Page