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Davey Hamilton Interview

July 12, 2001


Davey Hamilton

Bob Jenkins: The most obvious question is, Davey, how the heck are you? 

Hamilton: I'm doing all right. It's been a change of life. I'll tell you that. It's something I never thought I'd be going through as a racing driver, but you got to play with what you got dealt. We're doing OK. The doctors, thank God, I've got (Kevin) Scheid and (Terry) Trammell and all the people that rebuilt my feet. I'm going to be fine. It's just a lot of time ahead of me.

Jenkins: Let's go back to that day. What, if anything, do you remember about that accident or anything that happened that night?

Hamilton: Unfortunately, I remember it all. I was coherent through the whole thing. I remember trying to pass Jeret (Schroeder) several times. I got close to him, and it washed the front end out a little bit. I thought, 'No big deal.' It was early in the race, and we were just going to ride a little bit. I got on the outside and just hung outside for about 10 laps, just slowly gaining on him. Going through Turn 2, I looked down and saw he blew an engine. I knew I was in a little bit of trouble. When I'm on the outside of a guy that just blew an engine, it's usually not good. I tried to get by him. I tried to stay on the throttle and get by him to try to avoid it, but it's just not quite enough room. I remember hitting the wall. I, actually, don't remember getting up in the chain-link fence or any of that. I remember spinning around a lot and landing on the racetrack, sliding down in the infield and just being in a lot of pain. I didn't know the severity of the injuries. I knew I broke my legs. I just didn't know they were as bad as they were. That's the time I wished I had that hammer to go ahead and knock me on out, because it wasn't fun after that. I remember the whole thing. Everybody thought I threw my steering wheel off, but that was actually my neck collar so I could try to get my helmet off. The steering wheel was stuck on. I went through a lot of emotion and a lot of pain at that point, but I'm glad that is all behind me.

Jenkins: What happened after the actual crash? Do you remember getting in the ambulance? 

Hamilton: I remember them getting me out of the car. There was a lot of screaming going on, I'll tell you that, on my part -- a lot of pain. I remember getting out of the car and in the ambulance and in the infield care center. I remember everything up to the helicopter. I got in the helicopter. I remember the door shutting. At that point, I was pretty much out until I showed up at Indianapolis. The best thing, I think, I ever saw was my wife and my dad and a friend of mine when I woke up. I saw all of them, and they were saying that I'm in Indianapolis, and they are going to make my feet OK. That is not what I heard at one point. I heard way worse.

Jenkins: When were you first told about how severe your injuries were? 

Hamilton: When I was in the infield medical center at Texas, obviously in severe pain, and, like I said, a lot of screaming going on at that point, I heard them talk that it looked like I was going to be a double amputee. That is not a fun thing to hear when you think you are a healthy guy and you are going to race all your life in good health and not have anything like that happen to you. It's not something you want to hear, by any means. When I woke up, I thought they (his feet) probably weren't going to be there. Scheid, Trammell plus (skin doctors) Jones and Sando -- a lot of doctors in Indianapolis -- this is the place to be to get hurt. I just thank God they flew me here and got me with the best in the world.

Jenkins: When did you discover that things were beginning to look better? 

Hamilton: It was pretty hectic. I went through six surgeries in, like, eight days. I was in and out a lot. I really can't remember the exact time of it. It was probably, like, the second week after the accident. I was somewhat coherent enough to realize I had a good opportunity to keep all my own parts even though they are modified pretty drastically. Obviously that is a good feeling. That just makes me want to work even harder to make sure that happens. We had a few little glitches on some skin grafts and things on the left foot that didn't take too well. And we had to go back in for another surgery just to try to save a big toe, actually. They did a great job. It's there. It's on, and it's looking good. So far I have everything I had when I went to Texas. Like I say, they are pretty modified.

Jenkins: So you know how lucky you are sitting here with both extremities? 

Hamilton: Oh, absolutely. Not just that, but my life. The Indy Racing League does a great job on the rules packages. I think they are the safest cars out there. I really still feel that. It's just that it was a situation to where I got in there and got in the chain link and the way the poles were located and structured at that speedway, it hit the car at an odd angle, and it sheered the front of the car off. You know, that is not going to happen very often. That is an area where we never hit normally, where the construction of the cars aren't really made to hit that way. I'm very fortunate that I wasn't three feet farther forward because that would have been where my head is, and there is no way that at 210 miles and hour, which we were basically going, that a guy can survive that. We are very fortunate first of all to be here and second of all to have my own legs. It's going to be a long time. It's going to be a while before I can walk -- a long while. But it sure is nice that I can pick my kids up and give my wife a kiss. From the knees up I'm great.

Jenkins: What is the short-term schedule now? Do you have to stay here? 

Hamilton: I'm going to stay in Indianapolis for the duration. This is where I need to be. It's where the doctors are and all the therapy is and all the people that are going to help me recover the best I possibly can. We have an apartment in Indy. My wife (Tracey) and kids (Davey Jr. and Hailey Shea) are back here. We're going to stay back here for the duration until I get completely healed up. Actually, in two weeks I go back into Methodist (Hospital) to have a surgery on my right leg to pretty much complete it. There needs to be some rods in place and some screws. They need to do some bone grafts and some stuff to the right leg. That's coming up here in a couple of weeks. Then a couple of weeks after that one, we go to the left leg and finish that up, which I'm looking forward to every stage. Every step is something to look forward to. It will be nice to get the casts on and try to get my legs down a little better -- just start that recovery. I can't do anything weight-bearing for probably six months. But I don't think pedals on the computer are weight-bearing so I think I'll be all right playing with those for a while.

Jenkins: You come from a racing family. I know your dad has substituted for you in the Supermodified. How has their reaction to all this been?

Hamilton: Coming from a racing family, it's my life. It's all I've done all my life. It's all I've focused and put so much energy to and loved and still do. My dad, being 60 years old and still racing, I'm so proud of him. We were here in Methodist those first few days, and I remember telling Tony George I didn't think I was going to make Colorado. Not knowing the injuries, I didn't want to miss a race still. I thought, 'Well, they are broken bad enough that I'm going to miss that race, but maybe I can make the next one.' So that is just the mentality we have. We want to go on and get going. I told my dad I know the Supermodifieds are in Colorado and there are a few races after that I need you to go run, and he said, 'No, I want to stay with you.' I had to almost beg him to go do it. I've never been so proud of him. He ran second at Colorado, and then he went to Kansas and ran second. Then he went to Twin Falls, Idaho, and ended up winning that all-nationals Supermodified show. Two seconds and a first -- I said I better fire myself and hire him. He did a pretty good job. It's just what we do. This is what we do.

Jenkins: How about the fans? Have they been good to you? 

Hamilton: Unbelievable. There is something good with everything you go through in your life. You know, laying in bed for five weeks basically now and reading fan mail and what we do and what it means to the fans, you don't realize that. So many letters come through saying we came to the race to watch you, or we went to a race and you did this, and we remember that, and that was such a thrill, and we enjoyed it, and thanks for putting a show on for us. All my friends and the family, it just is really amazing. I think that is the good part. I would never realize how many fans and how many people really care until you are in a situation like this. I didn't really know all that. They are pretty special. I have so many cards. Every night I read them, and I am going to read and respond to each and every one of them. There is probably a stack three-feet tall that I haven't even gotten to yet. It's just amazing. They come from all over the world. It means a lot. I guess coming from Idaho my dream was to race and participate in one Indianapolis 500 and just be content with that and thinking that would be my career. To go way beyond that and to get to the level that I feel is the top level of motorsports is pretty special. I didn't realize that. I just kind of ride the wave. I haven't taken it for granted. I appreciate everything I have and every car owner and every sponsor and everything I've ever had. I think they know that. But it is hard right know, I'll tell you that.

Jenkins: Have you been watching (Indy Racing events), and if so, how difficult is it for you to watch what is going on without you?

Hamilton: Yeah, I've been listening to you. I've been listening to you and watching. The first one was pretty difficult, which was Colorado. That's a track that I love. I've ran second and third there. I always look forward to going there. It was difficult, but I got through it. I knew I couldn't go there. I was looking so forward to Richmond myself because we went there and tested and the car was so fast, and I was telling Sam (Schmidt) and everybody, 'That's going to be my place. It's a little short track bullring like I'm used to.' We tested really well there. I was proud to see Jaques (Lazier). I felt like I was a part of that because we had such a good test and him being on the pole and unfortunately going out early, but it actually made me feel pretty good. The car was good, and I felt like I had a big part of making that happen. Then when you guys went to Kansas, that one actually started to get to me a little bit. I mean that's the third race that I've missed. You know, you feel separated and not a part of it somewhat. So it's starting to get difficult to watch them. I'll be honest with you, I've never really watched them. I was in all of them until this one. When Scotty (Sharp) crashed (at Kansas) it makes you look at it a little different. He hit hard. It gives you that feeling, and you just pray and hope that they are OK. Before I've always been in the race driving by it thinking they will be all right, hop on out. It's a little different angle. 

Jenkins: You are busted up physically, but has this been a mental strain for you? 

Hamilton: Yeah. I have a couple of businesses with the Supermodified Racing League on the West Coast promoting the supermodified races out there, a freestyle motocross company, and racing 50, 60 times a year in midgets, supermofidieds and sprint cars. Getting up everyday doing what I had to do, it definitely was hard to not be able to care for myself or not be able to just hop out of bed and do what I need to do. But on the good side of that, too, is it makes you realize how much love I have for my family and how much this sport has taken from my family at times. You reevaluate everything, and when I go back to doing what I do. It is going to change a little bit. The family comes first, now. I always put racing first where family comes first now. I'm fortunate to be here. I love my kids and my wife. If it wasn't for them right now, this would be really difficult. If it wasn't for them being by my side, I don't know if I could do this. The fans are helping, and my friends here in Indianapolis take me out to dinner and see me every night. I haven't been alone at all. My friend Johnny (Nicotra) from Florida comes back and forth. He's been through the whole thing with me. You can't buy relationships or friends like that. So without all that, it would be very hard if I was laying here by myself for sure.

Jenkins: The big questions is: Do you want to drive again, and do you think you will? 

Hamilton: Yeah and yeah. I mean, yeah. This is what I do. I hope that I can. When I say, 'Yeah I want to' and 'Yeah I will', it's hard because I don't know how I'll be. The doctors don't know. They literally rebuilt my feet with my parts. You know, my right foot is going to be an inch-and-a-half shorter, and my left ankle is not going to work. They've done a lot of muscle and skin flaps. There are going to be some places I don't feel anything. I know mentally that I can do it. As far as my reflexes and everything, how I drove a race car before, I can do everything. It's just until you get in one, until I get in the car and drive around I just don't know. We will play it by ear. First of all, I want to walk. I want to get back on my feet. I want to walk. When I get in that car, I want to walk to the car and get in it.

Notes: Davey Hamilton, 39, is a resident of Eagle, Idaho. He was injured June 9, 2001, at the Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. He and his wife Tracey have two children Davey Jr. (D.J), 4, and Hailey Shea, 21 months. Hamilton will be released from Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana Friday, July 12. He will stay in an apartment in Indianapolis through the duration of his rehabilitation program. Hamilton's next surgery, which will be on his right leg, is scheduled for July 24 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. He is requesting that all cards and letters be sent to:

Indy Racing League 
Att: Davey Hamilton 
4565 W. 16th Street 
Indianapolis, IN 46224 
or 
davey@samschmidt.org 
getwell@daveyhamilton.com  

Indy Racing League

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