After being involved in a highway accident at the beginning of September, Nick Hoffman had to be placed in a medically induced coma with his future in question.
Three weeks later, he was back behind the wheel of his Elite Chassis, NOS Energy Drink No. 2 DIRTcar UMP Modified, parking it in Victory Lane at the Mike Chasteen Memorial at Peoria Speedway, like nothing had happened.
However, those that knew of the situation – the major highway truck accident on Labor Day Weekend that put his father Darrell, crew member Mason Beadles and he in the hospital – knew that was far from reality. In the month since the hauler crash, Hoffman has taken the time to reflect on what matters most to him.
“My whole outlook on life has changed a lot in the last couple of weeks,” Hoffman said. “Just with my kids, and everything else that’s way more important than what racing actually is.
“Racing is a huge part of my life. It’s how I make my living, so I’m just lucky enough to still be able to do it.”
BACK IN THE SADDLE
In true racer fashion, Hoffman was eager to not let the crash stop him from racing.
“I had a few people ask me if I was nervous – I wasn’t nervous at all,” Hoffman said. “The biggest thing was making sure my brain was still connected to my butt and everything felt the same.”
“It was all pretty much normal.”
In a field of 27 cars, Hoffman reigned supreme at Peoria. He never missed a beat, setting fast time in Qualifying, winning his Heat Race and the 40-lap Feature.
Climbing out of the car, victorious in his first race back, Hoffman reflected on everything he’d been through the previous three weeks.
“It just felt different,” Hoffman said. “All that we went through… just lucky to still be here. Not only that, but [I’m] just lucky to still be able to drive a race car. That could’ve went both ways.
“I could’ve never been able to drive again but still be here, or that crash could’ve took us all.”
POINT OF IMPACT
“I don’t remember anything from the crash; don’t remember anything three days after the crash,” Hoffman said.
Pulling a trailer loaded with their car and equipment to race in the big-money events at Farmer City Raceway, Fairbury Speedway and Spoon River Speedway that weekend, the group was together in the toterhome, Hoffman asleep in the passenger seat, when they collided with a slowing semi-truck at full speed.
Hoffman was knocked unconscious by the impact, but soon woke up and immediately showed signs of a serious brain injury.
“I basically sat down in front of the guardrail until the ambulance got there, and I guess they said I had a seizure at some point sitting there,” Hoffman said. “Then, I walked myself into the ambulance and they rushed me straight to ICU.”
He spent two days in a medically induced coma while his body began to recover from a skull fracture, and bleeding and swelling of the brain. Beadles was soon treated and released with cuts and bruises, while Nick and Darrell were released the following week – Darrell with a broken back. Looking back, Nick was just thankful to be alive.
“We’re all very lucky that it doesn’t happen more often with all of us [racers] that drive up and down the road at 2 or 3 in the morning all the time,” he said. “Anything stupid can happen – something runs out in front of you or whatever… But at the end of the day, we’re all just very lucky that none of us died and we’re all still here. It could have ended way worse.”
ASSESSING THE DAMAGE
Hoffman and his family returned home from the hospital the following week. He began to visit with doctors, who advised him to try and go about his daily life as normal as possible.
“The first week I came out of the hospital, I felt fine,” Hoffman said. “Obviously, I wasn’t. But I could do normal, everyday activities. I was in the shop every day, I could work out, I was driving up and down the road, no problems.”
With the absence of any concussion-related symptoms for several days, Hoffman’s competitive flame began burning once again. He got clearance from doctors to compete in the Mike Chasteen Memorial event at Peoria Speedway, and quickly arranged his travel plans.
“I had quite a few conversations with [DIRTcar Director Sam Driggers] and got clearance from the doctor to be able to do it,” Hoffman said. “I went and drove a go-kart at GoPro Motorplex, just to make laps and make sure I wasn’t going to have any issues once I got up to a decent speed.
“It was a late call, really. Wednesday, I did a CT scan, Thursday I talked to the doctors and everything, and then I bought a plane ticket at 5 o’clock that flew out at 11 o’clock on Thursday to make sure I got to St. Louis.”
Though he was, physically, in shape to compete, his equipment was not. After the crash, his toter and trailer were taken to a nearby towing center in Kentucky, and later moved to Petroff Towing near the St. Louis area. For the event at Peoria, Hoffman made plans to borrow a trailer from the Allgaier family and headed out to race.
A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS
As news broke in the days after the accident, an outpouring of support from the entire dirt track racing community helped to lift Hoffman and his family.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of support we have had from everybody,” Hoffman said. “They took my souvenir trailer to Eldora that weekend, and I just found out this week that Eldora allowed us to do that. I wasn’t racing, but I was planning on trying to be at Eldora that next week.”
Fellow competitor Tim Nash collected driver autographs on one of his body panels and auctioned it off, donating proceeds to Hoffman’s family. KBC Graphics produced the #NH2Strong decals that covered the pit area in the following weeks, and longtime friend Gordy Gundaker started the public donations account that spread across dirt racing social media. Support was coming in every size and shape, and Hoffman said it did not go unnoticed.
“Everybody says racing is a big family, and that is no doubt,” Hoffman said. “They all supported me, and I’m just trying to get through it.”
THE ROAD FROM HERE
Now back home in Mooresville, NC, Hoffman has visited with his doctors to assess his healing progress. Though his brain is en route to a full recovery, issues with his jaw persist. He’ll soon visit with a surgeon to determine the process to fix it, while visiting with other doctors for further scans and tests on his brain.
Coming into September, Hoffman was hot on the trail of a fourth-straight DIRTcar UMP Modified championship, closing the gap to leader Mike Harrison with each week. Though he was aiming for handful of wins and good finishes this month to be in the hunt at the end, Hoffman has decided to take a step back and do what is right for his body as he continues to recover.
It was a decision he made with the future of his bright racing career in mind. Hoffman said he’ll likely spend the rest of this season working in his shop and watching from outside the fence but is keeping a close eye on what’s around the corner.
“I’m just going to spend my time here at the shop and try and get everything lined up so that we’re ready for next year,” Hoffman said. “I did want to get back in the race car just to make sure everything was good. Obviously, it was, so now I just need to take the steps to do it right next year.”
DIRTcar Series PR