There are certain events that change your life forever. April 25, 2014 was one of those for 23-year-old Tyler Roahrig.
The up-and-coming racer was set to do battle in the season opener for the Champion Racing Association’s Super Series at the high-banked, quarter-mile racetrack, Anderson Speedway in Indiana. Roahrig never made it past the opening laps of practice in preparation for the Super Late Model event.
“I remember realizing that the throttle stuck (on the backstretch) and I don’t remember anything after that for probably like 15 seconds,” explained the Mishawaka, Indiana native. “I think I was out for a bit and then I woke up in the car.
“I thought I was paralyzed for like a minute. I couldn’t move anything at all. That was kind of scary.
“I remember one of the track workers looking at me and they radioed for a helicopter right away,” Roahrig continued to tell 51 via a phone conversation from his home. “I got my helmet off and then I realized I was in some trouble. I just thought I had a broken arm and my leg, maybe two places in my leg. Then I figured out that I had a lot more wrong once we got to the hospital.”
The injuries Roahrig suffered in the wreck were extensive. A compound fracture in his lower leg was repaired with a titanium rod and three pins. Another rod and screw hold his broken hip in place. Doctors are hoping not to have to perform hip-replacement surgery. A broken arm holds another plate and screws. A broken sternum, tailbone and left shoulder blade are left to heal on their own.
“It's just like my life changed, it did a 180-degree turn,” admitted Roahrig, who is a Mechanic Engineering student at Purdue University’s South Bend, Indiana campus. “I am so used to being up and doing things like racing, working on the cars, whatever. For me that is the biggest thing. I can deal with pain and stuff, but I just sit at home pretty much by myself. It’s pretty boring. It’s hard to keep a good attitude but I think I am doing a good job. I just hate the fact that I am losing out on a year of racing.
“Sometimes I go to the race car shop. I went to Angola (Motor Speedway in Fremont, Indiana) this past Saturday and watched the sprint car race and that was pretty fun.
“I am definitely getting better. Every week, I can tell a big difference. I am able to move around more and more. I have to use a walker or wheelchair to get around. It’s just a matter of time before I can start walking more.”
On Wednesday (June 4, 2014), Tyler went to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis, IN for an update on his hip. It was not the news he was hoping to hear.
“Everything is healing fine, but they won’t know about my hip for a long time, maybe even years. I am not near as confident after hearing him (the doctor) tell me about other people and similar procedures and the problems they had. I can’t try to walk for another six weeks.”
Roahrig has another appointment for further evaluation on July 18th. And we can tell after exchanging some texts with him that his spirit, especially when it comes to getting back in a race car, will not allow him to give up.
“I just want to make sure everything goes right and I just want to get better as soon as I can. There are a lot of things going for me like racing, (and a) little bit of college I want to get done. I just want to get back and be ready to go next year. I just want to heal as quickly as possible.
“I want to be back running a full-time Late Model and sprint car schedule. Hopefully it will be before that, like in April (of 2015).”
Roahrig says he is thankful for so many things; Aaron Pierce, Brian Gerster and Scott Neal helping get him out of his wrecked car at Anderson Speedway to texts, Facebook messages and even calls from people like NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Stremme. But, in difficult times, it’s always family that helps most.
“I was in Indy (hospital) for nine days; I think and my dad was there with me every day but one and that’s only because he had to get home and take care of some stuff with his business,” said Tyler of his dad, JR, who is also a winning race car driver from the Midwest. “He has been a really big help. I live with him and he put up a ramp outside for my wheelchair and everything.
“I had therapy in Mishawaka, which is about 40 minutes away from where I live. My aunt, uncle and cousins live about five minutes away from me and they brought me there every night. I would eat food with them and they would hang out with me. That was really cool.”
Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that mean the most.
Roahrig does, however, take exception to those who speculate that the car he drives, a Senneker chassis, was to blame for the extent of his injuries.
“Actually, the design of the car was perfectly fine. Everything around me stayed in tact and kept me safe. I think any car that would have hit where I did would have definitely been hurt bad. I think it’s more of the design of the track (at the turn three pit opening) to blame for my injuries. If I would have hit in turn one, I would have gotten out and walked away. There are a lot of tracks like that and I just wish something would be done.”
Roahrig does plan, with the help of friends and family, on attending some races this summer and when possible, begin working on his race car as well.
Through all of this, Tyler Roahrig has found the inspiration to make the best of his situation and fight to get better as quick as possible. It’s that fight that also makes Tyler Roahrig an inspiration to us all.
- By Bob Dillner - @bobdillner. Photo credit: Speed51.com