Danville race car driver still hopes to return to the track after horrific crash
EPPING -- SETH STICKNEY'S life flashed before his eyes when he saw the concrete wall coming straight at him.
"I knew I was going to hit it hard," he said, recalling that night last month when his race car smashed into the retaining wall between turn three and four at Lee USA Speedway.
The 34-year-old racer from Danville feared he would be killed or paralyzed if he survived the accident on Oct. 12.
It was Octoberfest - the last race of the season - and Stickney had made a couple of laps around the track without a problem, but everything changed when another car banged into him.
He lost control and tried to maneuver his car so that he would hit the wall at an angle, but he was unable to avoid a head-on strike.
"It doesn't take long to travel 15 feet when you're going 100 mph," he said Friday while recounting the racing accident at a benefit event that raised more than $8,000 to help during his recovery.
Stickney couldn't move his legs the first 30 to 40 seconds after the impact, he said. He thought he was paralyzed from the neck down, but then he felt his feet on the floor. And then he tapped his hands together.
While he wasn't paralyzed, he still wasn't in the clear.
"I knew my neck was hurt," said Stickney, a former firefighter who understood that he needed to keep his head and neck still.
His thoughts then turned to his girlfriend, Michele Clark, who was at the other end of the track and was frantically making her way closer to the scene of the wreck.
Racers usually drop the net on their car after a crash and either climb out or stick out their hand to signal to the crowd that they're OK. The audience then cheers. This time there were no cheers.
"You just get that pit in your stomach," Michele Clark said.
The car was owned by Stickney's good friend, J.R. Filippone of Seabrook. He witnessed the race and was one of the first ones to rush over after the accident.
"I didn't know what to think, but I knew he was hurt because I could see that stare in his eyes," he said.
Safety personnel at the track and other rescuers were able to free Stickney after cutting off the roof of the car. He was then rushed to a local hospital and transferred to a Boston hospital, where doctors determined he had broken his neck in several places.
Stickney is able to walk, but he continues to recover at home with a neck brace. Doctors are waiting to see if the injury will heal on its own before deciding whether surgery will be needed.
Stickney, a commercial refrigeration technician, is now out of work, unable to drive. He must rely on his girlfriend to help him with his daily tasks. Modifications have been made around his Danville home; he sleeps in a reclining chair.
Stickney said it's a miracle that he's alive.
"Every morning when I open my eyes and every breath I take, I know I'm lucky," he said.
Like sacred ground
Heidi Brown of Epping comes from a racing family and planned Friday night's fundraiser at American Legion Post 51.
She saw last month's crash and was reminded of a similar racing accident in 1985 that killed her brother, 29-year-old Fred Brown.
Her brother hit the same wall at the Lee track, but the outcome was different.
"It really struck too close to home again and I'm thanking God that he's walking. He's lucky that he's alive," Brown said of Stickney.
Many of those who attended the fundraiser also witnessed Brown's deadly accident.
Brown stopped by the track Friday and reflected on what she's seen there.
"This track really caused a lot of pain for a lot of families, but it's also brought some absolutely amazing memories. My brother and my father won championships up there. There's a lot of history and it's like sacred ground to me," she said.
Lee USA Speedway owner Red MacDonald and general manager Bill Callen also attended the benefit and praised the quick response of safety personnel.
Stickney, who's been racing for 20 years, said he hopes to eventually return to the track if he gets the OK from doctors.
"As far as I'm concerned, I have racing fuel running through my veins," he said.
But if he does race again, Stickney insisted that he'll be using the "best of the best" when it comes to safety equipment.
Clark has remained by her boyfriend's side every step of the way and will support him if he decides to race again.
"I signed up for the deal," she said.
Stickney is also urging others to take safety precautions.
"I wish nothing more than to have all my fellow competitors and racing friends to spend more time and funds on their personal safety equipment and the safety equipment for their cars. I care about them each individually and don't want to see any of them go through what I have and am going through. It is far worth the extra costs to be safe and love what we do," he said.
Anyone wishing to donate can make checks payable to Seth Stickney. They can be sent to 296 Main St., Unit 2, Fremont, N.H., 03044.