by Laurette Nicoll
Even through the debilitating agony of a broken back, he knew he had to pull himself out of the racecar and couldn’t wait for someone to come get him. The interior temperature of the car had far surpassed the 100° F mark and he was sure he was about to pass out from the pain and heat if he waited any longer.
During the 2019 Nitro World Games, Nitro Rallycross was a one-off event that brought in some of the biggest names in rallycross racing and multi-talented driver Scott Speed was one of them. With experience in Formula 1, Indy Car, open wheel and being a 4x rallycross champion, Scott was gunning for the Nitro RX win. First, he had to qualify out of his heat race to advance into the final. After laps of practice, the track was watered before his heat race to keep the dust down. This made the face of the jump tackier then Scott had experienced earlier and created more grip powering up the jump. No, it wasn’t the spectacular 130-foot gap jump that got him, it was a single jump that that he had been taking at full speed all weekend. From one lap to the next in his heat race, he went from landing it perfectly to over-clearing the landing and slamming to the bottom. As soon as he dropped, he knew something was very wrong. Scott quickly imagined that he had popped four ribs out of place and hoped that he was going to be able to run the next heat race. But in fact, he had a destroyed T6 and two more fractured vertebrae.
Scott recounted, “There were 10 seconds that my brain was trying to figure out how I was going to be able to compete and then it turned into, oh my gosh, I can’t breathe. This is the most pain I’ve ever been in! I can’t believe this just happened!”
On a pain scale of 1 through 10, Scott was holding steady at a 9. He started to panic as his now strangled and voluntary breathing was labored. “I just wanted to breathe,” he recalled. Scott pulled himself out of the car and spread out on the pavement. He was quickly loaded into an ambulance and administered Oxycodone, a powerful pain medicine which offered no reprieve from his agony. The EMT’s then gave him morphine and in his words, “It did absolutely zero.” Scott was suffering so much that he couldn’t think or make a single rational decision so finally, he was given something that knocked him out completely. “My brain wouldn’t work,” he said. “It was trying to rewire itself and wanted to put me somewhere else.”
Scott was soon released from the hospital, and left to languish at home with little reprieve from the pain. The next 48 hours were relentless; pain pills weren’t working so he stopped taking them. The only two options were to either sleep—extremely difficult since he couldn’t lie down, and there was only one chair in his house where he could find some comfort—or be awake for the torture.
For the next two months, treatment at home consisted of wearing a back brace, which would allow the bone to heal naturally, rather than having surgery which was a riskier recovery. He eventually started his rehabilitation process, and every day for six months Scott attended physio training to work on strengthening, flexibility and movement. Even as an athlete, his daily regime included training every day, but this was a specialized workout that focused on his core and back strength.
“I still feel it every day, it’s still a part of my life,” Scott stated. “I wake up and have to do a certain set of exercises every day, but I feel that I got my strength back after about a year.” A miraculous 365 days later, he was running and cycling at the same level as he had done before.
September 2021: Utah arrival for Nitro Rallycross, Round 1
The last time he left this place, it was in an ambulance. Two years later Scott walked back into the Utah Motorsports campus prepared to compete. He had been testing and practicing jumps prior to the Nitro RX season opener and yes, the injury, pain and recovery were on his mind. “Something like this needs time. Every time I go over that jump and I don’t get hurt, I’m one step closer to where I was. But it takes jumps, and it takes my brain realizing that that action won’t result in what happened before and that’s part of the recovery process."
“Every time I go over that jump and I don’t get hurt, I’m one step closer to where I was. But it takes jumps, and it takes my brain realizing that that action won’t result in what happened before and that’s part of the recovery process.”
Overall, his weekend was a success. Scott battled through his heat race, had contact with Kevin Eriksson which resulted in a broken front end and then reconnected with Eriksson as Scott was unable to steer his car. That meant Scott had to move into the semi-final round, which he won, advancing him into the main event. In the Finals, Scott suffered a dead engine which took him 20 seconds to refire, moving him back into fifth position where he finished overall. His takeaway was pragmatic as he said he was able to compartmentalize each step and make one good decision after another. “I was pleasantly surprised that I felt like I was driving at 100% out there. I didn’t expect that. I thought that I would have more hesitation on the jumps, but it’s been long enough, and I have been working at this for a while so, I think I’m closer at the end of dealing with it, mentally.”
As he reflected on this full-circle, two-year journey of his, the smile in his voice was palpable as he talked about his healing and how it wouldn’t have been possible without his loves: wife Amanda, and young daughters Juliet and Ava. Scott said, “Luckily, I live in a house with three girls. My home was the best place to recover because my girls love me so much and took really great care of me. It was an interesting life experience.” He laughed and continued, “I wouldn’t do it again if I had the choice. It’s part of my journey that I’m thankful for and we keep moving on. Even if I was never able to race again, my happiness wasn’t predicated on racing. I would still be happy. Our foundation and life is right. I love racing but I don’t need it for my happiness.”
What a success story.
Watch Scott Speed and a stacked field of some of the world’s best rallycross drivers battle their way through an all-new Nitro Rallycross track built at the incredible ERX track in Minneapolis, MN this weekend, October 2 and 3, 2021.