NHRA Pro Stock driver Alan Prusiensky still on the mend following massive crash at Charlotte
Car owner-driver suffered broken vertebra, hopes to return in 2020
He was wearing a brace that he kidded makes him “look like a sausage.” He was fidgeting, trying to find the right stance that would make his pain tolerable after suffering a fracture of his L-5 vertebra in the lower lumbar spine. It happened Oct. 11 during qualifying for the Countdown to the Championship race at Charlotte.
But especially with new marketing partner TopCoat, he needed to make sure his car was on track. So he hired six-time winner Richie Stevens, who was back in the seat of a Pro Stock car for the first time since the April 2017 race at Houston. However, Prusiensky is eager to drive again and said he’s hoping to strap back in and compete at the season finale Nov. 14-17 at Pomona, Calif.
“If I could sit in the car today, I’d be racing it today,” Prusiensky said. “My goal is to lose some weight and take it easy, because I would really love to drive in Pomona. I think that’s probably a stretch, but you know what? You got to give yourself something to look forward to. The only thing I love doing more than working on the engine is driving the car. I just want to drive. Richie is doing a great job, but it’s killing me that I’m not in that car.
“You’ve got to be able to get out of that car (in case of an accident). Right now, it would be hard for me to move around and get out of the car. We’ll give it some time,” he said.
After he was diagnosed, treated and released from the hospital in North Carolina, Prusiensky went home to Rockaway, New Jersey, and rested. He said he took a week away from his race shop for the first time since 2014, “went in my bedroom and stayed there all week.”
He said he didn’t bother with a visit to the doctor in New Jersey: “Probably if I went to therapy and had all that stuff done, it probably would be much better. But you never have enough time for that. I’ll go once, and then I just find something else to do. At this point, I actually think it’s better than the last time I broke it. It could be that or just not as bad as the last time I did it. So I’m hoping the latter. I’m hoping it’s not as bad.”
About 10 years ago, he worked through an L-4 fracture from a non-racing accident. “So I know what I’m up against. It’s just going to take time just to heal,” he said. “The problem is you use your back for everything that you don’t realize. But when I’m out here and I’m working on a car, the pain fades away a little bit so it’s nice. I’m really not that bad. I can’t say (the pain) is excruciating. It’s annoying pain but not excruciating.
“I’m not complaining. After seeing pictures from that accident, that really ranks up there with some of the best crashes NHRA’s ever seen,” he said. “It just was one of them things.”
But Prusiensky definitely is itching to get back in his car. Whether he will field a two-car team again right now is a question mark.
“I have two cars, but now I only have one, so we’re still not 100 percent sure, “ he said. “We’ll definitely have one car with me driving it. I’m not coming out here if I’m not driving. So I’ll have a car that I’m driving, and then we’ll just have to see if we fix our car.”
He said the car, which lost wheels, a door and a pile of front-end parts, is salvageable: “That car, it looked a lot worse, but it never came around and got the back of the car. So all the damage was from the windshield forward. They just cut that off, put a new section on, and you’re good to go. I wouldn’t say it’s not going to be cheap to fix it. We’re just not sure. So there’s a lot of things we’re still thinking about, but at least we have a back-up car and Richie Stevens is doing a great job for us.”
For right now, Prusiensky said, “Me and Rich do all the work on the car. He’s doing the labor part, and I’m doing the computer part. So we can’t really do it without each other. We don’t have extra people, so I can’t stay home and do it. The car needs to go down the racetrack.”
He said what caused the violent wreck at zMAX Dragway turned out to be an axle problem, one he never suspected. He had been figuring it was an engine problem and was scratching his head, wondering after a number of dyno tests why he wasn’t resolving the issue. He said, “We’ve had such a tough year, with so many little gremlins and things that shouldn’t have happened to us. But small teams, them kind of things happen.”
Prusiensky said the contact with the wall knocked him unconscious for a few seconds. He replayed the crash in his mind and has a decent idea what happened. He said, “I don’t think about if could happen again. If I made another 2,000 runs, it probably never would happen again.” Nevertheless, he said he knows how better to react if his car ever repeated something like that.
He said the car “was dragging me toward the center all the way down the racetrack but not to the point where it was unsafe. If it came out of gear and the ‘chutes blossomed, it would’ve been no problem, like hundreds of other runs. It never skidded on the front tires. Just the back tires locked up from being in gear. It quickly turned and put me into the wall. When I hit the wall, all I remember is that the sky lighted up. It was hard, and then I was knocked cold.
“I think what broke my back,” Prusiensky said, “was when I came down, there were no wheels on the car. The engine has a plate behind it, and that hit the track. That’s what broke my back. Most of my pain is like if I fell down on my butt. I don’t think anything happened from going forward, hitting the wall. The broken back was from hitting the ground.”
He discussed the incident with Chris McGaha, who was in the opposite lane (and eventually the same lane, by the end of the run). Prusineksy said, “I showed Chris that I didn’t do anything wrong to jeopardize him. He’s seen it. He said, ‘Alan, I see the same thing you see.’ I said, ‘I just want to show you that I didn’t do anything stupid out there to jeopardize you. The clutch didn’t become disengaged.’ It just felt good to me to show Chris. Thank God I didn’t hurt him. I’d rather hurt myself than hurt somebody else.”
Prusinensky said he has learned from the ordeal: “I taught myself how to drive a Pro Stock car. I didn’t have any training or be in a big camp where they teach you. I learned a lot of it by myself by trial and error. That’s definitely a big learning experience, right there. I’ll heal. We’ll learn from it: Don’t make the same mistake twice. We’ll move on, and we’ll forget about it.”
He said he definitely will drive again, most likely returning at the 2020 preseason test session in late January/early February.