INJURED NMCA RACER: “IT ALL HAPPENED SO FAST”
Barbara Nesbitt Recalls Details From Her Devastating Injury
It happened in the blink of an eye; at least that’s how Barbara Nesbitt remembers it.
“I reached up to pull the parachute handle and thought the nitrous bottle exploded,” Nesbitt recalled in an exclusive telephone interview Thursday afternoon.
This was Nesbitt’s first interview, just eleven days after a top-end drivetrain failure nearly took her right arm, broke a finger on her left hand, and bruised her liver and a lung, and at least three ribs while racing her Camaro at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina in the NMCA’s ARP Nostalgia Pro Street class. The car, which only had ten passes on it since its construction, had already been clocked running in the mid-7’s at over 180 MPH.
Nesbitt still isn’t sure of the exact sequence of events.
“All I know is that there was an explosion,” she said. “I had a single run, made my pass, following my normal routine. Got off the gas, reached up to pull the chute, and POW! Now was it the driveshaft that had already come loose and was banging around? I don’t know. It happened so quickly,”
Nesbitt remembers looking up, seeing that the car was heading straight down the track, and getting it stopped with her only remaining uninjured limb, her left leg.
Friend and longtime competitor Chuck DeMory was the first responder to the accident. He previously told Attitude’s CompetitionPlus.com, “As I approached the car I saw the driver's door underneath the car, which scared me. I jumped off the golf cart and ran over there.”
Nesbitt remembers when DeMory approached the car.
“I couldn’t get to the door latch with the way the finger on my left hand was broken,” she explained. “I was starting to get claustrophobic, and I couldn’t breathe. Then I saw Chuck and with my only good body part I gave it a good swift kick and the door fell onto the track. He didn’t expect to see my door go flying off and me laying in the car in a twisted mess.”
Out of everything that happened, her greatest fear was not knowing where anyone was. She wanted to get out of the car, but just couldn’t. And with her in-car communications system not working properly, she couldn’t radio for help.
“We realized earlier in the weekend that they weren’t working properly, so we just turned them off,” Nesbitt confirmed. “I couldn’t have keyed it anyway with the condition I was in.”
An incident like this is one that no driver wants to have happen to them; even more prominent is the thought of “What would I do in a hairy top-end situation?” It lurks in the back of every drag racer’s mind, whether they will admit it or not.
For Nesbitt, one thing that is very clear to her is how she initially reacted after the incident. Without hesitation, she bluntly exclaimed, “I’m a good driver!” Nesbitt was quick to explain that once the parachute was open she could see that the car was still going straight, and from that point it was just getting the car to come to a stop, a task she confirms is difficult to do when your arm is wrapped around a broken stub of driveshaft.
Her hospital stays, first in the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, and currently in Loyola in her home state of Illinois, have been nothing short of difficult. So far she has undergone six surgeries with two of them spanning 24 hours and two days, just the day before we spoke with her.
But you’d never know it.
“The Mika boys [fellow Nostalgia Pro Street competitors] came by to see me, and they were so afraid to come in, because they didn’t know what to expect. Nobody knows. But I’m not half-dead yet. I told myself when they were taking me out of the car that I had to be hardcore and get the job done,” said Nesbitt.
Despite her tough-girl exterior, the outpouring of love and support from friends and fans alike has immensely humbled her.
She explained, “On Monday there were over 300 phone calls taken at my office for me. People I have never met; Dale Creasy, for one. He went through the same kind of accident. All of the people from the NMCA came to see me at the hospital. George and Jody Rumore, and Jr. and Pops Kook from Kooks Custom Headers fed my entire family every day when we were still in Charlotte. Even Bruton Smith from zMax took care of the hotel rooms for the family when they came to Charlotte. My kids, my crew, everyone that puts their hands on the car to help make it go, all of the people on the websites that are asking about me, Facebook, the NMCA site, YellowBullet. The support is really a big thing.”
Partner and crew chief Billy Adams weighed in on the subject of support also.
“Alan Chervitz from Bradenton Motorsports Park, who also has a company that builds prosthetic limbs – he flew into Chicago Monday morning just to consult with her doctors and make sure she was getting the best care possible in case they couldn’t save her arm and he needed to build a prosthesis for her,” Adams explained. “He was on the phone with me every day when we were in North Carolina. You just never know what people do outside their racing life. That was stand-up what that man did – he did not have to do that for us. Scott Casale from Chris Rini’s crew brought us clothing to the hospital. We all have plenty of ATI Performance Products t-shirts now. Bill Lutz and Frank Mewshaw for waiting on Tony to be ready for Super Street in Milan – that was a cool thing to do by them to not race the semifinals at zMax. Nobody wants to win a championship that way.”
Just before a meeting with Dr. Stanton, her surgeon, Nesbitt addressed her future in the NMCA’s ARP Nostalgia Pro Street.
“I will NEVER get into that black car again,” said Nesbitt, speaking sternly. “But the only thing that will keep me out of the driver’s seat is if we can’t financially afford to build another car. I’m just not sure if I could get back into that car again, because of being so creeped out at the end of the track. But I will drive again.”
Nesbitt is scheduled to be released from the hospital in 7-10 days, pending recovery, but faces many more surgeries before it can be determined if she will regain full use of her arm.