Terry Bobbitt took his 17-year-old daughter Blake to her first NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in April. Sitting close to the track, the father and daughter from Rogersville, Ala., felt the rush of the pack as it screamed by. When they rose to their feet at the sight of the checkered flag, the Bobbitts never imagined what would happen next.
Carl Edwards was leading through the tri-oval as Brad Keselowski made a move to the inside. Edwards threw a block and Keselowski refused to give. The two made contact and the back of Edwards’ car lifted into the air as it flew up the banking. With nowhere to go, Ryan Newman hit Edwards’ car at over 200 mph and sent it flying into the catch fence in one of the most spectacular crashes in recent memory.
Terry Bobbitt told me over the phone last week that he saw the wreck coming and pointed it out to Blake. Realizing the car was headed straight for them, he attempted to shield his daughter from the wreck and the debris flying through the fence. He was knocked off his feet. When he regained his footing, he asked his daughter if she was OK, but there was no response.
A piece of debris had struck Blake, knocked her unconscious and broken her jaw. Bobbitt realized his daughter was in trouble and called over to a deputy sheriff who was standing in front of him. A number of doctors who were in the crowd quickly made their way to Blake. Within a minute of the incident, representatives from the speedway also were at the scene.
To avoid traffic, Blake was airlifted to UAB Hospital in Birmingham while Terry was driven by a speedway official. Doctors performed surgery on Blake’s jaw and wired it shut. The official sat with Terry at the hospital and drove him back to the speedway to get his car.
The following day the family received calls from speedway representatives, NASCAR officials and drivers. Edwards was one of those who called. Deeply sorry for the incident, Edwards checked in on Blake’s condition on a regular basis.
“Yeah, we’ve been talking a little bit and I think she’s gonna come out to the race,” Edwards said on Friday in Martinsville. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to meet up, but that was crazy. I hope nothing like that happens again. That’s the worst feeling I’ve had in racing. When I landed my airplane in Washington after that race, I was going to a Ford appearance. Randy, my PR guy, told me, ‘Look, there were some people injured.’ That was a really bad feeling… She’s really nice and she’s a pretty cool chick.”
A NASCAR official said Blake’s family was not compensated for the injuries because the family’s insurance covered her medical costs and the family did not file suit against NASCAR or the track. Talladega Speedway president Rick Humphrey told All Left Turns the speedway has had conversations with Blake. He did not elaborate on the specifics of those exchanges. He did say that the track consulted an outside engineering firm after the incident, which led to the extension of the fence from 14 to 22 feet.
“Obviously fan and competitor safety is our top priority and we were pleased that the fence functioned properly during the incident in the spring at Talladega,” Humphrey said. “Whenever our safety systems are tested, we take the opportunity to closely examine how every element functioned and see if there is anything more we can or should be doing."
NASCAR said it will use a smaller restrictor plate for the Nov. 1 race. The hope is that these changes will ensure a safer race for both the competitors and fans.
“I think they’re doing an adequate job with what they’re doing,” Terry Bobbitt said. “A lot of times you might not know what you have to do until something happens. What’s there, you could assume it’s safe until something happens, then you have to modify that. I think they are looking at the situation, even before this wreck, the cables that are in the fence weren’t there a few years ago. Now they went even further with raising the fence.”
Blake is now in college, helps her father out at the store he owns and also works with a local farmer. Early next year doctors will re-break her jaw and perform bone grafts. Bobbitt said that his daughter’s jaw hurts at times, but she is not in constant pain.
With no hard feelings or fears about returning to the track, the Bobbitts met with Humphrey to make plans to attend Sunday’s race. Last week the family learned it will be allowed to attend the drivers’ meeting, walk through the pits and tour the garage before heading to the stands, where Blake and her family will watch the race.
- Photo credit: Mark Almond/The Birmingham News