INJURED NMCA RACER REMAINS ON ROAD TO RECOVERY
NMCA Nostalgia Pro Street racer Barbara Nesbitt saw her life change forever Aug. 8, 2010, when on just the 10th pass in her brand-new Skinny Kid-built ’68.
Camaro the car’s drivetrain let go at the end of a solo elimination-round pass at Z-Max Dragway in Concord, NC.
“It was amazing how fast it all happened,” the 54-year-old grandmother recalls. “At first I thought that a nitrous bottle had exploded and then I realized, ‘Oh my God!’ when I looked at my arm and it had carbon-fiber sticking out of it.
“Thank God, Frank Hawley taught us to be like robots, to repeat everything you do exactly the same over and over again to the point where you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing. As soon as all hell broke loose I hit the parachutes, I even shut the car off, and I’m amazed with that. As my right arm went up to launch the parachutes I saw the center console where my shifter is, come up at me. I saw it just, like, blow up. Within probably a tenth of a second everything broke loose on me, broke my elbow, my right boob, my ribs, my liver, banged my right leg up. Nothing hit my helmet, though; I guess I was up just high enough to avoid that, but I was bruised from my hip to my shoulder.”
However, because Nesbitt had safely brought her car to a halt in the Z-Max shutdown lane, there was no sense of urgency by track rescue crews to reach her. In fact, it was fellow Nostalgia Pro Street team owner Chuck DeMory who was first by her side after stopping along his way to pick up his son from the top end. He initially stopped just to offer some good-natured ribbing to Nesbitt about getting her car off the track.
“The most thankful moment of all for me was when Chuck came up to the car because I had lost a lot of blood and I felt sure I was going to die. It must’ve been a moment when I passed out because he took my arm and unwrapped it from the driveshaft and I don’t remember any of that,” she says. “I mean, how do you thank someone for something like that?”
Nesbitt was rushed to a local hospital for immediate surgery to stabilize her shattered right arm before transferring home to Lombard, Illinois, where she immediately underwent orthopedic surgery by Dr. Michael Stover at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, followed by two more surgeries within the next week that left her wearing an external fixator for the next six or seven weeks.
“I looked like a robot,” Nesbitt says. “I convinced my three-year-old grandson it was a laser like Buzz Lightyear has and he was all excited about that.”
Also hard hit by the accident was car chief Josh Engelman, who Nesbitt says has a hard time speaking with her even now. “He tells me, ‘Barb, when I pat on that hood, when I close that door, I’m letting you know that you’re safe, and look what happened,’ and how many times can I tell him, ‘Josh, I love you and it’s okay?’ He couldn’t have known what was about to happen and if he did I know he would have thrown himself in front of the car to stop me.”
In October, Nesbitt endured yet another surgery as doctors grafted bone from her left leg to her upper right arm, a painful procedure that’s “left me gimpy on both sides,” she jokes. It also requires two or three daily changes of bandages on her leg, a job taken on by Bill Adams, Nesbitt’s crew chief and life partner over the past 28 years.
“He has been so unbelievable. When I first got out of the hospital my daughter, Jamie, took care of me and she’s a registered nurse, so she’s used to changing bandages as part of her job, but Billy, he’s my boyfriend and my crew chief and since my last surgery on October 10th, he’s been changing my bandages two or three times a day and he’s just amazing. I mean, I don’t even want to touch my leg, but I watch him while he’s doing it and he’s wiping ointment on and always telling me how I’m going to be okay,” she says.
In addition to deeply appreciating the support of doctors and nurses and family members, Nesbitt says she’s been “blown away” by the outpouring of concern and prayers sent her way since the accident happened.
“I want to thank all the people who wished me well and prayed for me. I mean, I don’t even know half of the people I see on Facebook and Yellowbullet and all these other Web sites that wished me well and I have no way to thank them and let them know how much it meant to me. It was absolutely amazing; I really couldn’t believe how the racing community supported me. And the female racers, it’s like they all ganged together. I will never in my lifetime be able to thank all these people.”
For now, Nesbitt is concentrating on physiotherapy, though she admits to feeling some frustration at her continued limitations. She’s able to brush her hair, for example, but not wash or style it by herself. She can barely cook, can’t do laundry, and perhaps worst of all, misses being able to pick up her grandchildren.
“I can move my fingers now, but my arm is still pretty much totally useless,” she says. “I’ve been doing extensive physiotherapy, but there’s only so much we can do while I have the bar that goes from my elbow toward my wrist. I have a bar inside my arm that goes from my shoulder to my elbow to my wrist like a big ‘L’ to hold all the bones together, but it restricts everything I do with my hand; I can’t turn my palm up.”
If all goes well, though, Stover suggests Nesbitt may begin rehabilitation of her elbow by February or March, but her vascular-plastic surgeon, who performed the bone graft, says six months to possibly a year, so she’s obviously anxious about getting started.
“But you know what? Everything I’ve gone through, the pain and everything else, I can turn around on any given day and see people who are way worse off than I am. I mean, when I go in for my doctor visits I see people who are burned and mangled and maimed and this is my arm we’re talking about,” Nesbitt says. “The worst thing that could happen is I won’t be able to straighten it; it’s going to be bent for the rest of my life.”
The accident also revealed to her the level of caring which resides in her Nostalgia Pro Street rivals.
“My favorite thing was, win or lose, I’d get out of my car and give them a hug at the end of the track—always. I did have one guy that I’ll admit I did not get along very well with, but even he called me after this happened, so he had a little love in his heart, too, and it meant a lot to me to hear from him.”
As far as getting back on the race track someday, Nesbitt expresses no question about her answer.
“You bet I would, and it’s because I didn’t do anything wrong,” she states. “I had a perfect pass, perfect. I did everything right. I hit the parachutes at the first sign of trouble; I remember looking down at my arm with a piece of carbon fiber sticking out of it and then looking up and seeing the car was still going straight; I remember putting my foot on the brake and making sure the car did not hit anything. I mean, I did my job, I did everything right. The car failed, not me.
“So will I race again? I don’t know, but I do know I love racing.”