One night, Port Hardy modified stock car driver Lawrence O’Connor had one hand around a track girl and the other on a giant display cheque.
The next, he was in the back of an ambulance, engaged in a heated exchange with the rival driver who put him there.
“It was kind of like the best of weekends and the worst of weekends, all rolled into one,” Lawrence said, able to smile ruefully as he surveyed the wreckage of his Harris modified racer back in Port Hardy last week.
O’Connor’s wild weekend came during the annual Memorial Day (U.S.) Weekend showcase at Grays Harbor Raceway in Elma, Wash., where he has been a regular for five seasons.
Even when he posted a rare clean-sweep weekend at the track, however, O’Connor has never been in the spotlight in quite the fashion he was May 27, after the failure of track officials to signal a caution led to Matt Mitchell plowing into O’Connor as the local driver sat disabled following a collision with the wall coming out of turn two.
The crash earned its own Youtube video clip, drew the ire of track regulars and has led to a review of policy by Grays Harbour. Even the track announcer can clearly be heard in the video shouting, “You gotta be kidding me! I did not just see that!”
The trouble actually began earlier Sunday, when rainshowers left a trench of water low on the inside of the first corner. O’Connor, fresh off his feature main victory one night earlier and racing a spanking-new vehicle purchased for this season, was running second to Mitchell with two laps remaining when his car splashed through the water and crossed the track. He got on the brakes hard but still slid into the wall before losing a wheel and coming to rest parallel to the wall.
Trailing drivers managed to slip past him without incident but, inexplicably, no caution flag was thrown. Mitchell, running hard in the lead and unaware of the crash, barrelled through the same turn on his next lap and slid through the same water, slamming O’Connor’s disabled car into the wall yet again while missing his fuel cell by just inches.
“It could have been a really nasty deal,” said O’Connor, who suffered a badly bruised leg and was taken off in the ambulance as a precaution. “I had shut the car off and was getting ready to get out, but I hadn’t unhooked my harness yet.
“The real problem was that the water was there in the first place, and the secondary problem was that no caution (flag) was thrown.”
O’Connor is still hoping to return to Speed Week, an event covering eight Northwest U.S. tracks in eight days, in which he placed sixth in overall points last season. But he has less than two weeks to go to either get his new car back in racing trim or outfit his backup car for the challenge.
“Saturday was sure fun, being in the winner’s circle with Bill, the big cheque, the track girls and everything,” he said. “But I lived both ends of the spectrum. You’re either gonna win it or wear it.”