How I Became A Race Car Driver
September 21, 2022 Jamey Hampton 0 Comments
It’s always an exciting day when you can cross one off the bucket list, and that happened to me recently when I made my ~racing debut~ earlier this month at Crash-a-Rama, at Holland Speedway in Holland, NY! Buckle up, because I’m going to tell you the whole story.
Crash-a-Rama is one of my favorite events of the year. I often call it “the demolition derby” but actually, demo derby is only one small event that makes up Crash-a-Rama, which is mainly made up of a series of high impact races, such as:
- the Enduro race, where 70+ drivers take to the track at the same time for an hour long race
- the flagpole race, where you have to do a loop around a tire at the beginning of every lap, which puts drivers in a collision course with each other
- the school bus figure 8, which is… pretty much what it sounds like honestly
- the hoods up race, where you have to have both your hood and your truck up so you can’t see, and then race in reverse
- the boat & trailer race, where every car is pulling a boat behind it and you’re only eligible to win if your boat is still intact at the end of the race
So basically, it’s a chaotic shitshow and an absolutely wild time. But, you may ask yourself, how did I end up competing in it? Well, a bit of determination and some really skilled and dependable friends. It was at Crash-a-Rama 2021 when I decided that I really wanted to do this – and that a good time to pull the trigger on it would probably be whenever my old car was about to kick the bucket. Back in July, my husband was unable to take the car to work one day because “it might rain later” and the windshield wipers didn’t work anymore. And that was the moment I realized it was time to start enacting this plan.
The problem is that I don’t know a lot about cars, but that’s the point when my friends, aka my “pit crew” started to take over the project.
So we pulled up the tech requirements for the race and started planning and stripping the car. My crew chief, Michael, is a safety officer at Moog, so of course I knew we’d be doing all the most thorough recommended-but-not-required safety features. And that meant: a racing seat and harness, a window net, a quick-release fire extinguisher, a polycarbonate windshield, and of course a full roll cage. All on my 2008 Toyota Matrix hatchback. (The window net ended up being one of the hardest things to install, as it turns out they don’t make a window hardware set to fit a Toyota Matrix. Who knew?)
I helped wherever I could with the building of the car, but because my friends are so much more experienced with cars and tools than me, I ended up doing a lot of “go bring me that one tool from the garage” type of tasks. But when it came to painting, I was the one with the vision. And that vision centered around my large adult son, Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen.
As we spent about a month working on the car, I kept saying that I was too busy being nervous about if the car would be done in time for the event to have time to be nervous about the fact that I was actually going to have to DRIVE it. So I suppose it was lucky that we didn’t finish the car until the night before the race, so I didn’t have too much time to stew in my nervousness about that. The morning after we painted it, we transported it out to Holland to prep for Crash-a-Rama in the evening, get the car inspected and get our loaner boat ready for the boat & trailer race.
It was interesting being in the pit! I don’t think there were many first timers and there certainly weren’t any other gay twinks, hahaha. Our car was clearly built with more safety in mind than the other cars there, as I expected, so we breezed through tech inspection. I was nervous, but I got a lot of great advice and tips from my awesome pit neighbor, James, who has been racing for a decade.
My first race was the Enduro: 72 cars on the same 3/8 mile track. It would be hard to overstate just how many fucking cars that is. The only way to even really convey it would be to watch this short video of the beginning of the race.
The Enduro race is always a blood bath, according to my buddy James, but it was particularly chaotic this year. It’s an hour long race, but we spent over half that time stopped for red flags, waiting for tow trucks and forklifts to clear away the carnage of wrecked cars. (There was a massive pileup that took over 20 minutes to clear before I had even made my first full lap.) At the end of the hour, the pack leaders had only made 45 laps and there were only 18 cars still running. I didn’t make 45 laps, but I was one of those 18 cars, and I think in this case “finishing at all” is a pretty big achievement!
The boat & trailer race has always been my favorite event, so I was pumped to compete in it. It’s way more exciting and chaotic than it sounds, honestly. You have to drag a boat behind you, but it doesn’t actually have to be on a trailer, so we just attached a boat to the back of the car with metal cables and dragged it on the ground behind me. Even just driving like that, with the weight of a boat acting on my car on a curved track, was kind of a wild experience.
But of course, it wasn’t just that, I was racing against a bunch of other people who were also dragging boats. One of them had their boat on a trailer which immediately tipped on its side, so they were just dragging the vertical trailer and kicking an extremely impressive amount of sparks up as it scraped on the ground. Some people lost their boats and then the wreckage was just still lying around as obstacles on the track. I drove directly THROUGH a boat at one point. My boat had swung up so it was NEXT TO my car at one point. I remember looking in my rear view mirror and the only thing I could see was a boat on its side. I’m not even sure whose boat it was, but when your view is completely eclipsed by a rampaging boat… well, that’s not something I had ever experienced before. And the smell on the track was just unbelievable. It literally smelled so bad it was making my eyes hurt, the smell of burning fiberglass I guess!
The last event I was supposed to do was the true demolition derby, you know, the one where you do literal bumper cars until there’s only one car left running? I was registered for it, but paradoxically, after the boat race, my car was simultaneously in too bad and also too good condition for us to want to ruin it. Okay so what does that mean? Overall, the car held up a lot better than we expected, I had a few minor crashes but really nothing major that was preventing us from bringing it back and racing again next year. But also, during the boat race, I ran over some debris and tore the whole oil pan off the bottom of the car, so when I killed the engine after, all the oil drained out onto the ground like my car had the world’s worst nosebleed.
And at that point, turning the engine back on would wreck it, so we just… didn’t! We missed the demo but now I’ll have another chance to do the whole thing again next year when I have a little more experience under my belt! I’m taking any excuse to wear my custom racing suit again, which is officially now the most precious piece of clothing that I own.
Anyway, I hope that your takeaway from this is that you should go out and do something on your bucket list, even if it sounds crazy! Driving in this race was totally scary and also exhilarating and also I felt a little like a fraud and also I felt like the coolest person who has ever lived and it was one of the best days of my life and I recommend it 100%
See you on the track next year!