Tommy Franklin realizes that luck can play a major role in drag racing. Good fortunes can mean the difference between a win or a loss.
However, to Franklin, luck could have easily meant the difference between life and death.
Franklin competes in the American Drag Racing League’s Pro Nitrous division and during the recently completed event in Budds Creek, Md., the Fredericksburg, Va.-based driver suffered one of the more devastating crashes in the history of the racing series.
He was uninjured in the crash and by his assessment, lucky.
“I had a head and neck restraint (device) on. That’s just the first car I’ve ever worn one in and not my head, neck or anything hurts at all,” Franklin said, just days after his first major accident. “It was really good from that … and the car did its job to protect around me.”
Franklin was making a test run on the first day of the event when his classic Camaro drifted out of the left lane groove and was thrust into the retaining wall in his lane. The right tire broke loose and the former Pro Stock racer went on the scariest ride of his life.
The design of the barrier and the momentum of the car sent the errant race car into the air, where it then came back down and went into a barrel roll.
Just to think, Franklin had planned for a half-track shut-off on the new Garrett Race Cars-built machine.
“We were going to make a 330 pass and got out there and it just kind of walked out of the groove a little bit and when the right tire got out of the groove it just broke loose and pulled it right,” Franklin said. “Obviously I was in the left lane I didn’t want to go in the right lane and hit that person so I just pulled back and lifted at the same point; it just kind of went into a fly there and there wasn’t a whole lot to do at that point.”
Franklin was just along for the ride.
“Once I knew I was going to hit the wall I just kind of grabbed on at that point,” Franklin said. “I knew that I was just going to kind of launch up in the air -- the wall was like a ramp. I knew we were flipping at that point.”
It was the second outing for Franklin in the Camaro. He debuted the car the previous week with a victory at Virginia Motorsports Park.
“It was a brand new car - we went out at last weekend at Virginia Motorsports and won the first race we entered,” Franklin recalled. “We went from the highest of highs, bringing a brand new car in and winning its very first race to the lowest of lows.
“I went out there [at Budds Creek] trying to get a 330 run for some data. It left beautiful and everything was beautiful. It got out and just walked it out of the groove and there wasn’t a real wide groove there yet so it was all history by that point.”
To anyone watching, the accident appeared horrendous. Franklin, while in the midst of the misfortune, never realized how bad the incident actually was.
“Honestly to me, if I didn’t see the video I wouldn’t even think it was that bad,” Franklin admitted. “I saw the video, of course, when it happened, I was like it wasn’t that big of a deal. I knew the car had hit the wall and I was like we tore up a beautiful race car so that’s how I looked at it. It’s just a very disgusting feeling at that point
“We all know how much money these things take to put it out, I’m a small time guy that has no sponsor help there. It’s out of pocket racing so to take a brand new car and destroy it at that point is just disgusting. During the crash it wasn’t that bad. We went through it all, kind of just got it done. I unhooked my belts, climbed out and I was completely fine. I wouldn’t have thought it was that bad but people would tell me, ‘You don’t understand what you just did.’ Until I saw it on the video I always thought it just flipped once, until then.”
The new car was a total loss for Franklin, save for the engine and drivetrain components as well as a few bolt-on items. Otherwise, the ride is a write-off.
“We’re going to try and rebuild,” Franklin said, discussing his future plans. “Obviously we’re trying to rebuild. It won’t be anything super fast just because financially it’s tough. I was doing everything I could do to get it out. I raced IHRA Pro Stock for a couple of years and it’s so hard over there and that’s what this car was.
“There’s some stuff salvageable still from the car. Obviously there are parts and pieces I can take off but the chassis and body are destroyed. Garrett Livingston from Garrett Race Cars is willing to help us put it all back together and everything. I thank him tremendously for everything, after I saw the crash especially. I thanked him as soon as I got out, he was right there on the starting line with us. So after I saw the crash I definitely thanked him.”
He also looked upward and offered another thank you, for enabling him to be lucky.