Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Steve Gasparrelli admits during his first round race at the NHRA Auto Club Finals that he didn’t have a clue what was going on when his Mustang flopper crashed suddenly and unexpectedly.
The West Covina, Ca.-based racer was along for the ride when his entry broke an oil line and abruptly turned right into the opposite lane taking out an ESPN2 camera before striking the guardwall and coming to a stop with the throttle hung open and the car upside down.
“When the car took off, it was just like a normal run and then all of a sudden the ass-end came around,” Gasparrelli explained. “I was out of the throttle as soon as it came around and I figured the car had broken something. I had never experienced a car turning right that quickly before.”
Gasparrelli, the son of veteran racer Lou Gasparrelli, is no novice to driving Top Alcohol Funny Cars and just a week earlier had defeated series runner-up Steve Harker to win the NHRA LODRS Div. 7 event in Las Vegas.
“I tried to correct the car and it just wouldn’t come back so I figured we had broken something in the steering,” Gasparrelli continued. “I knew I was in trouble and anything I tried to do to correct the car was in vain. It had a mind of its own at that point and I was just along for the ride.”
Gasparrelli said he didn’t have much time to get scared, at first, but when the car flipped after making contact with the wall, he had a feeling there was going to be a bad outcome at that point.
“I thought the car was just going to spin out and didn’t realize how high the car went up on the wall,” he continued. “I felt the impact.”
For Gasparrelli, the fear factor was about to grow exponentially. The force of the impact with the guardwall, instead of throwing the car over the retaining wall, tossed it backward and upside down onto the track. The landing cracked the injector and hung the throttle wide open.
“That tore a big hole in the injector and that’s when the throttle hung wide open,” Gasparrelli explained. “I was trying my hardest to get the engine shut off because I didn’t want the car to head back to the starting line. I had mounted the kill switch on the steering wheel and that enabled me to kill the engine.”
“There wasn’t much room to get out and one our crew members Don Eason and driver Bryan Theil helped me out,” he continued. “I was going to be able to get out but they helped me along. That was good since I was afraid of fire.”
After the accident, Gasparrelli had more questions than answers and the one thing that left him wondering the most is why the inside of the car went dark, and then lit up and went dark again.
“I knew the body had come off but I had no idea why it got dark again,” he said.
The body came off of the car and went into the air and came back down on the chassis, which was upside down.
In the midst of the action, the elder Gasparrelli slipped in the oil on the starting line during his attempt to run to the crash and fell. Officials were pulled in two directions tending to the son and the fallen father.
“I had heard that he fell and I wanted to make sure he was alright,” Gasparrelli said. “He was okay and the paramedics checked him out.”
Gasparrelli remembers bits and pieces of the accident but because of the positioning of his chassis on the wall, was unable to determined if he’d come close to any of the photographers perched alongside the wall.
Professional photographer Andy Wilsheer never flinched throughout the ordeal.
“That one guy was crazy. I’m glad the car didn’t go over the wall,” Gasparrelli recalled. “I bet he earned his money on that shot.”
Gasparrelli will return to racing next season with the same chassis, although it will have to be front-halved. The car, according to him, was already on it's way to Brad Hadman’s shop before the second round of Top Alcohol Funny Car eliminations could be run.
“I don’t think I’ll think much about this accident the next time I get in the car,” Gasparrelli admitted. “This was such a freak accident and to be honest I was probably lucky that it happened the way it did as opposed to being down track and under full power. I just chalked this up to being bad luck.”