Rookie driver Karla Pestotnik won’t forget her first collision when she hit fellow Honda Challenge 2 driver Tom Paule during a qualifying race at the Western States Championship. The driver’s reaction embodies what is best about amateur racing.
After the race, Pestotnik’s crew immediately went to work on the Honda CRX Si even though the damage to the car’s right rear was minimal. Paule watched as the rival team removed the bumper, pulled the brake light and began pounding out the damage. Pestotnik even added some PCI arms to the front of the car as an apology.
“I felt so terrible for taking him out, and fortunately we had a yellow flag where he could catch back up to me under the yellow,” Pestotnik said. “As soon as we had a green flag, I just pointed to him to have his position back.”
Pestotnik was driving right behind Paule going into a turn when she said her brakes went soft. The team had issues with air getting into the brake system, which they narrowed down to the bleeder screws. While working on the brakes, the crew had to replace a water pump and left the track around 2 a.m.
“I wouldn’t say that was a rookie mistake at all,” Paule said. “It’s just one of those things that happens. To lose your brakes and have no pedal, there is nothing you can do but hit the guy.”
Paule said his calm demeanor was a reflection of the first time he made contact with another car, coincidentally at the same track, 14 years ago.
“I freaked out. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m still a rookie, I have contact, this is terrible,’” Paule recalled. “(After the race) I get right out and run over to the other car to say I’m so sorry I hit you.
“He’s like, ‘You hit me?’ I’m like yeah, I’m really sorry. He goes, ‘Oh you’re a rookie. Don’t worry about it.”
Besides delivering a bottle of Jack Daniels to Paule in the paddock, Pestotnik promised to buy him dinner and beers for the fender bender.
“He was really cool about it, but he knew I didn’t do it intentionally,” Pestotnik said. “We made some jokes that it was intentional.”
The minor crash didn’t hurt either driver as both finished on the podium Sunday. Paule finished second and Pestotnik was third.
“What they did going above and beyond was typical Honda Challenge, and I think that’s typical NASA,” Paule said.