Kent Vaccaro: Bad Luck

Bad luck. Just bad luck. These are words that I would use to describe many parts of year one of my pro-racing career. I’ve honestly learned more than can be remembered, met some incredible people who have become very large parts of my life and had a lot of fun stepping into my first pro series; but for whatever reason, this year has been chalked full of plain old bad luck. Unfortunately, the bad luck struck again at VIR during the fifth F4 U.S event, and it struck big.

I charged down the front straight in the second lap after the restart in the final race of the weekend. I clipped by several cars, and was fired up. I knew the cars ahead, all in a big line, would get held up under braking as the accordion effect took place. I utilized the brake zone to its utmost potential. I flew into the brake zone at top speed, braking as late as I knew was safe. Except, the braking didn’t happen. The slowing down didn’t happen. My pedal went straight to the floor.

My No. 16 Momentum Motorsports machine continued in a straight-line right off the track. Unfortunately, I knew just how much this impact was going to hurt. I knew that it would be pretty much impossible to have a bigger impact in one of these cars than this. I was at top speed with no chances of slowing down. I remember I had just enough time to jump on the radio button; I can’t tell you what I said, or how I said it. My guess is that in the next half of a second, my team heard a coherent cry for help, and then I hit.

 It was a hard hit. When everything stopped I viciously gasped for air. My lower back was on fire in pain, and I was scared. I completely admit that. This was very, very scary.

Within a few seconds, the pain in my back subsided to a dull ache, and my breathing came under control again. I got on the radio and exchanged a few words with my engineer, Scott Kruger. He talked to me, reassuring me while deciphering what had happened. He calmed me down with just enough to think straight. At that moment, seemingly seconds after I had hit the wall, I was completely surrounded. I saw at least a dozen track medics all around my vision looking in. They tore off my collar, wheel, and belts. What seemed like a million hands pulled me out of the car, keeping me perfectly still. They stood me up, but still completely supported me. I told them my lower back hurt, and, within a few seconds again, they had leaned me back onto a backboard. They coaxed me through the whole process. I tried to get a glimpse of the car as they collared me and strapped me down, but all I could see was a tire wall moved back. Very far back.

They whisked me off in the ambulance to the medical tent at the track. My timeline of this event is now foggy, but I remember our team principal, Phil Picard, meeting me in the ambulance, and staying with me. I was wheeled into the tent. I was IVed, and met my slightly emotional parents. They told me I was getting airlifted to Duke Medical Center, and my parents whisked off to meet me there, as the drive was three times as long as the copter ride.

I was airlifted, still on a backboard, to Duke Hospital. I was wheeled inside. I met a highly equipped trauma team that promptly whizzed me through a number of tests that I would rather forget. As the team went to strip me, I just clearly remember begging, “Please don’t cut the suit! Please! I need it for COTA!!”

Luckily, one exceptional nurse held the team off from cutting until she wriggled me out of it, saving my precious suit. At the end of it all, I was completely and utterly fine. As the surgeon was letting me go at the end, I jokingly asked him, “So can I go to the gym tomorrow?” To which he seriously replied, “Sure.” Going to the gym the next day was exactly what I did.

The Thank Yous could pour out for weeks about this ordeal.

  • A huge thank you to the incredible team of track medics that were on me faster than I truly thought was possible. Thank you for your incredible display of professionalism, efficiency, and patient care.
  • Thank you to Onroak for building a piece of brilliance that can completely protect me in a hit that hard.
  • Thank you to the air crew, including one individual who shielded my eyes from the sun by holding a clipboard the whole flight.
  • Thank you to the incredible trauma team, who garnered incredible expertise, and efficiency while making sure every last piece of my spine was ok.
  • Thank you to my champion, Amy, for not cutting the suit.
  • The deepest heartfelt and personal thank you to my team and family: Scott, for being the stable rock I could hang onto, Phil for caring about me like a member of his family, my parents, for their utmost commitment to do anything and everything to make sure I was 100% ok, and my teammate, Skylar, for his many words of advice about how to pick myself up.
  • And finally, a major shout-out to the F4 community. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised in the number of fellow racers, teams, fans, and other members of the community that reached out to me. Thank you.

This accident could have happened to any team, in fact, precautions were taken to prevent such a mishap, and therefore we are all in agreement this accident was pure bad luck.

As race car drivers we push ourselves and our equipment to the limit constantly- we are all here to experience that rush of a victory. Unfortunately, there is a danger. It’s the nature of the sport. As many of the greats have said before, it's the danger that makes you feel alive. Sometimes, after an accident, it can be hard to get back into the car. But with a car of that level, such incredible safety crews, and major support from the F4 community I can promise you that I will have no issues hopping back into a car at COTA, and, lucky for me, back into my suit.