It’s not widely known that more injuries occur in the paddock at NASA events than on track. But it’s true. Luckily, injuries are uncommon on the whole, but it’s true that they more like to happen to someone in the paddock than to a driver on track.

Now you know why the NASA CCR prohibits scooters without seats. It likely would seem inconceivable to an outside observer, but the safest place to be is on the track with all those cars running along at high speeds. Competent drivers accustomed to NASA racing rules are a big part of that, as is all the safety equipment required in racing cars. About a month or so ago, I had something happen to me that reinforced the idea that the track is the safest place, but in a different sense.

After a productive day of Friday practice at Willow Springs International Raceway, I was buttoning up the racecar and getting ready to settle in for the night when the wind picked up, as often happens in the Antelope Valley, where Willow Springs is located. No wonder there are so many windmills out there.

The wind was buffeting the trailer, so I went outside to drop the stabilizer legs at the rear corners to steady things a bit. As I opened the door, the wind ripped it from my hands and slammed it against the outside of the trailer. Hooray, a new dent.

As I tried to get some sleep, the wind kept howling, so much so that it felt like I was trying to sleep in a trailer being towed down the road. I thought the wind would die down, but after a couple hours, I made the decision to unhook my truck and go into town to get a hotel for the night.

I awoke the next morning, ready for a great day with my racing buddies. As I approached my truck, I could see my CD case lying on the ground, the door was ajar and that the bloody lock cylinder in the door handle had been punched out. This wasn’t looking like a great day.

When I opened the door, I could see that someone had rifled through all my stuff and ripped the steering column cover off and tried to break the ignition lock cylinder so they could steal the truck — and with it the two sets of wheels and tires and a decades-long collection of tools in the bed under the camper shell. I tried start the truck with my key, but the lock was too mangled to turn. The truck was dead in the water.

The sense of violation had me searing with anger, but the reality is that it could have been much, much worse. The would-be thieves failed to steal anything. So, I called the police and went back to my hotel room to wait for them to arrive. I figured I’d watch some television to take my mind off things, but for some reason I wasn’t interested in watching “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

It must have been a busy morning in Lancaster that Saturday because the police never showed up despite repeated calls for service. I got tired of waiting, so I went back down to my truck to see if I could get it going. After all, I had my tools with me.

After about a half hour of finagling and breaking apart more of the lock cylinder, I was able to get the truck running, just barely. So, I went back to the track, hooked up the trailer, loaded my car with the truck running, and headed home. The next day, I tried to start the truck, but I couldn’t get the ignition cylinder to turn again.

Out came the cutting wheel and I was finally able to get the truck started, and I began the claim process with the insurance company. All told, the whole episode set me back about $1,500 after the deductible. Car thieves are scum.

At the next event, somebody told me the wind did eventually die down that night at Willow Springs, about two hours after I left. That was hardly of any comfort, but suffice it to say, next time I’m staying at the safest place I can think of: at the track.


  1. I remember seeing you loading up early and asking why. While saddened by the fact that it happened to you, i was glad you could get it running and nothing was taken. The paddock has always been considered a safe haven among racers. I have left gear and tools out and never had an incident. I have heard of these thefts at local hotels and feel the same way. Now if they could just build a decent bathroom with a shower at all tracks that would be a huge asset.

  2. Hotels are definitely much more comfortable, but you have to have an enclosed, locked car with an alarm and a CLUB on the wheel. Make it difficult enough and they’ll move to something easier. Don’t give them anything easy to steal.

  3. That totally sucked! What hotel were you at? (You can use the old “rymes with”I if you don’t want give the name. I have never slept well with the truck or truck and trailer at the hotel… As I’m currently parked at the holiday inn in Lancaster for testing tomorrow…..

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