A Bad Day At The Office

NASCAR

Drivers can't forget those really bad days in the car, the days that often left them with a sick feeling. (Photo: Getty Images)

For all the highs racing can provide, it is the lows that often stand out to a driver. And then there are those days they can’t forget no matter how much they would like.

Every driver has their story of that really bad day in the office - inside the car that is. It varies, often depending on how long one has competed. The longer they've race, the more likely they are to have an experience like six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. And it isn’t pretty.

So consider this your warning if you don't have a strong stomach.

This happened years before most had heard of Johnson, back when he was teenager in the early 1990s and looking to run off-road races. He was paired with Robby Gordon’s father in the Baja 500. It proved to be a memorable experience for the wrong reasons.

Let Johnson explain.

“I rode half the race in the car and discovered my serious issue with motion sickness,’’ Johnson said. “I wouldn’t get out of the car. Every pit stop we pulled into, the people would see that I was covered in vomit and tried to pull me out of the car, but I was so anxious to race and wanted to race, (he told them) “No, I’m staying in.’

“That was the most miserable experience I’ve ever had. Once I ran out of stuff to puke up, I just dry-heaved over and over and over. I was in a racecar, and I wasn’t getting out.’’  

Before you ask, yes, Johnson was wearing a full-face helmet.

But it wasn’t his.

“The best part of the story was it was Robby’s brand new helmet,’’ Johnson said. “My helmet wouldn’t plug into the radio harness, so I wore Robby’s. I felt so bad after the race I forgot to clean out the helmet or wash it and I just put it back in the helmet bag. Robby found me a few weeks later. Let’s just say he wasn’t happy with me.’’

David Ragan can relate.                

“You always remember those tough days that are physically and mentally tough on you,’’ he said.

The one that remains with him was the 2007 Nationwide race at Montreal. Ragan was competing in both Sprint Cup and Nationwide that season. Cup was at Pocono and Nationwide at Montreal, so Ragan was jetting between those tracks. Looking back, he figures he didn’t eat a good lunch and didn’t have enough fluid in him.

That was only part of his problems.

Ragan recalls that it was “very, very hot in Montreal and very humid’’ that day. His car suffered some damage early in the race that knocked the crush panels in. That allowed the exhaust to get into the car. He said he got carbon monoxide poisoning.

“I was puking inside my car,’’ he said. “I was praying for that checkered flag to fall. Never been so happy at the end of the race. Very, very sick. You really can’t do anything. You can’t stop and get a new helmet or switch anything out.’’

So why didn’t he just get out of the car?

“I was still conscious, I still knew what was going on,’’ he said. “It was one of those things that you’re hoping it would get better, you’re hoping you’ll catch a caution to patch up the duct work or patch up the crush panels. You just keep fighting.’’

Before you ask, Ragan said he got sick under both green and caution.

“I’m sure my lap times were all over the place,’’ Ragan said.

Still, for what he went through it makes him appreciate what one other driver once did.

“Obviously, Tony (Stewart) when he got sick at Watkins Glen, I remember watching that race on TV and thinking how awesome is that he’s sick and he outruns everybody,’’ Ragan said. “That’s a true test of what kind of guts you have.’’

Stewart, saddled with stomach cramps, won at Watkins Glen in 2004. He stopped in Victory Lane, walked to a waiting golf cart and went to his motorhome, returning several minutes later to celebrate.

But not all drivers have such days.

Greg Biffle recalls the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 when the hose that blows cool air into his helmet malfunctioned before the race started.

“My frustration level was high, and it was really hot and it was a long time to breathe exhaust and burnt oil and rubber and everything else in there,’’ he said.

“I don’t know how I got through it. Something happened to the (cool box). It was blowing hot air, extremely hot air. One of the problems was I couldn’t get the helmet hose off my helmet. I could but the helmet hose was long, and I was afraid it was going to get in the (steering) wheel. Once we pitted and they got the helmet hose off the helmet, I was much better, and I had my visor open the entire race. It was a tough race.’’

Biffle overcame all that and was leading when Jimmie Johnson blew a motor to bring out the caution four laps from the scheduled finish. Instead of winning, Biffle finished 13th.

“You couldn’t have scripted it to be any worse,’’ he said.

Johnson or Ragan might disagree. 

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