Carbon Monoxide is known as the silent killer. Zane Smith almost found out why on Saturday night at the CARS Tour event at North Carolina’s Concord Speedway.
With 55 laps complete in the 100-lap Super Late Model race, Smith pulled his No. 77 Crooks Racing machine to the apron and climbed out of the car under green flag conditions. He was running third at the time.
Smith explained that at first he thought a lapped car ahead of him was leaking something and causing him to not be able to see or breathe.
“At first my eyes started burning a little bit,” Smith told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Then I went onto the front stretch and it got so bad that I had to slow up just to be able to see a little bit. Once I did that it just hit me like a light switch. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see at all. I opened my eyes and everything was super blurry. I couldn’t see from the exit of four all the way around to the dogleg.”
By the time Smith got around to the dogleg on the backstretch of the Concord half-mile tri-oval, he knew he had to get out of the race car as soon as possible and get fresh air again. But even outside of the car, fresh air was hard to come by as the humidity on this North Carolina summer night made the air thick.
“I took the window net down and got out as fast as I could,” he explained. “I just tried everything I could to start breathing again. I fell over the wall. I tried making myself throw up because it just felt like something was clogging my throat. It was just an awful feeling.”
When Smith first got out of the car, many people assumed it was heat exhaustion, including some of the people that first reached the 17-year-old.
“Everyone is thinking that it was heat exhaustion, but I felt great,” he said. “I was drinking water and everything. I could have done about 300 more laps. I wasn’t even sweating at all. I started sweating when I was about dying through the dogleg. Another driver was standing on the other side of the fence and he was telling me to open my suit because he thought it was heat. I was trying to tell him that I couldn’t breathe.
“I was turning purple and my eyes were bloodshot red. He about tore the fence down trying to get to me. Once someone did get to me I like blacked out and they gave me a bunch of oxygen and I started feeling better. I woke up Sunday morning and had a massive headache and was coughing a lot but it’s all good now.”
Saturday night was the first time Smith had ever experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning. He said it was the result of a broken x-pipe and also because his helmet fan “blew up” and blew plastic into his face.
“The helmet fan literally blew up,” he said. “That’s what caused me to have my throat all clog up, plus the carbon monoxide didn’t help either. I’ve never had carbon monoxide poisoning. I’ve always heard about it but I never really understood it. I didn’t get how you can’t breathe or it burns your eyes. Now I totally get it and that is the worst thing that could possibly happen. The thing that was scary was how I just couldn’t breathe. It was such a long time of not being able to breathe and just coughing just to try to get any air that I could. That was the scary part.”
Smith said he woke up with a horrible headache on Sunday morning and was coughing a lot, but both issues quickly subsided.
Since the effects have completely gone away, Smith had what most people would consider to be a great Monday. He was running go-karts at Mooresville’s GoPro Motorplex in the 90-plus-degree heat in preparation for two races on the high-banks of Winchester Speedway (IN) this weekend. He also announced that he’ll be making his ARCA Racing Series debut on September 23 at Kentucky Speedway for Venturini Motorsports.
“I’m really looking forward to that. I can’t wait to get on a track that’s bigger or even just do something a little bit different. This whole bad luck deal in the Supers is getting so old. Maybe if we try something else then it’ll go a little bit better than my year has been.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Daryl Canfield