NHRA Pro Stock owner-driver Alan Prusiensky, who’s recovering from a violent, back-breaking qualifying crash Oct. 11 at Charlotte, isn’t sure if he’ll be able to meet his latest goal. He wants to race his Cold Fire / Top Coast/eCar Mover Dodge Dart at the season finale in November at Pomona, Calif.
But he knows one thing: He will be back in that race car, at the 2020 preseason test session during Super Bowl weekend, if not sooner.
Despite a fractured L5 vertebra, Prusiensky continues to travel from his Rockaway, N.J., home to remain on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, tuning for his substitute driver, Richie Stevens. He’s forging ahead with his program because of sponsor commitments, as well as the reality that he can’t stay away from what he loves.
For right now, Prusiensky said, “Me and Rich do all the work on the car. He’s doing the labor part, and I’m doing the computer part. So we can’t really do it without each other. We don’t have extra people, so I can’t stay home and do it. The car needs to go down the racetrack.”
Six-time winner Stevens hadn’t competed in the Pro Stock class since the April 2017 race at Houston, in Deric Kramer’s Dodge, but he entered six Pro Mod events last season. Although the two almost never crossed paths with one another before, Prusiensky asked Stevens to fill in for him at Dallas and maybe beyond. And during the AAA Texas FallNationals last weekend, Prusiensky said, “Richie has done a great job. I’ve been out here for a long time, but I’ve never been around somebody of that caliber. I’ve never been around a driver who could teach me – there’s things that you can always learn from somebody. You always can learn from somebody who’s won six races. It’s a good thing. We’ve been laughing and having fun.”
Even so, Prusiesky said he wants to be back on track as soon as his body will permit him to do so.
“If I could sit in the car today, I’d be racing it today. My goal is to lose some weight and take it easy, because I would really love to drive in Pomona. I think that’s probably a stretch, but you know what? You got to give yourself something to look forward to,” he said. “The only thing I love doing more than working on the engine is driving the car. I just want to drive. Richie is doing a great job, but it’s killing me that I’m not in that car.
“You’ve got to be able to get out of that car [in case of an accident]. Right now, it would be hard for me to move around and get out of the car. We’ll give it some time,” Prusiensky said.
He had designs by mid-season to field a two-car team in the 18-race Pro Stock series. That’s uncertain – but still possible – at the moment, he said.
“I have two cars, but now I only have one, so we’re still not 100 percent sure. We’ll definitely have one car with me driving it. I’m not coming out here if I’m not driving,” Prusiensky said. “So I’ll have a car that I’m driving, and then we’ll just have to see if we fix our car, sell it. We’re just not 100 percent sure yet.”
He said the car, which lost wheels, a door, and a ton of front-end parts, is salvageable: “That car, it looked a lot worse, but it never came around and got the back of the car. So all the damage was from the windshield forward. They just cut that off, put a new section on, and you’re good to go.
“I wouldn’t say it’s not going to be cheap to fix it. We’re just not sure. It just happened seven days ago or eight days ago. So there’s a lot of things we’re still thinking about, but at least we have a back-up car and Richie Stevens is doing a great job for us this weekend to get some data and hopefully improve for next year. We’ve had such a tough year, with so many little gremlins and things that shouldn’t have happened to us but small teams, them kind of things happen,” Prusiensky said.
“You can’t fix every part of the car. You think you can, but eventually it catches up to you. So something stupid in the axles got me in [the wrecked] car. And all year long, I’m thinking, ‘I’m fighting an engine problem’ and I’m fighting a car problem. But by the time I got it fixed I crashed it,” he said.
“It was an axle issue with the car, and I just didn’t catch it. My fault. With that car fighting me all year long, I kept going back to the engine and putting it on the dyno. It looked OK. Put it in the car, it runs slow. Take the engine out. Put it back on the dyno, work on it. Something’s wrong with it – and we’re looking in the wrong place for the problem. So just fought us all year long,” he said.
As for the car Stevens is driving, Prusiensky said it had been reserved for teammates, “beginners . . . “They were really good and showed promise.” He said at Dallas, “We didn’t really put a good engine in this car until now, this weekend. Actually, on Saturday we put in this engine. It only got one run on it.”
Stevens anchored the Pro Stock field at Dallas with a 6.648-second elapsed time, respectable for both a car and driver going through the paces on short notice. He lost in the first round, but Prusinesky said he’s happy with what he’s seeing from both.
“So, to see it now that we’re in this car, the engine is running good, the car is running good, gives us some boost for next year. This gives us a little bounce in our step,” the team owner said.
“It was a tough week,” he said of the time following the accident. “I did rest. I tried to lay in bed all week to get it to heal a little bit. And I know if I go to the shop I’m going to be working. For the first time probably since I opened my shop in 2014 that I didn’t go all week. I got home on Monday and went in my bedroom and stayed there all week. My wife was pretty surprised. I just don’t know what else to do.
“I didn’t go to the doctor or anything yet. We went to the hospital. She said it’s an L4, L5 and I’m like, ‘Are you sure it’s not where I broke it last time?” She’s like, ‘No, that’s L4. It’s exactly the same break.’ So I kind of have history with it and I’ve had a bad back my whole life. So just got to heal,” Prusiensky said. “I broke L4, like, 10 years ago. So I know what I’m up against. It’s just going to take time just to heal. You break your leg, you can’t walk on it. So it’s kind of the same thing. The problem is you use your back for everything that you don’t realize. But when I’m out here and I’m working on a car, the pain fades away a little bit so it’s nice. But by the end of the day yesterday [last Friday], I was tired.”
Prusiensky had his head inside the car in the pits, fidgeting himself into just the right stance that made his pain tolerable, wearing a brace that he joked made him “look like a sausage here.” He knew what to expect – and frankly, how far he could push himself at this stage of recovery.
“A long time ago, just hurt it and just took like two, three months to get to the point where I could operate 100 percent. I can’t really even say that – it never really was 100 percent. Probably if I went to therapy and had all that stuff done, it probably would be much better. But you know never have enough time for that. I’ll go once, and then I just find something else to do. At this point, I actually think it’s better than the last time I broke it. It could be that or just not as bad as the last time I did it. So I’m hoping the latter. I’m hoping it’s not as bad.
“I’m really not that bad,” Prusiensky said. “I can say [the pain] is excruciating. It’s annoying pain but not excruciating. [Friday night] I was tired, but that’s going to be expected.
“I’m not complaining. After seeing pictures from that accident, that really ranks up there with some of the best crashes NHRA’s ever seen,” he said. “It just was one of them things.”
Prusiensky might not know the extent of this fracture, but he has replayed the accident in his mind and has a pretty decent idea how it occurred. And he said he knows how better to react if his car ever did something like that (although he said, “I don’t think about if could happen again. If I made another 2,000 runs, it probably never would happen again”).
He said everybody thought he had a brake problem and that even he questioned whether something happened with them. But, he said, “I never touched the brakes. We always look at how many pounds of brake pressure we put on, and I never went above 120 pounds of brake pressure.”
He said the car “was dragging me toward the center all the way down the racetrack but not to the point where it was unsafe. If it came out of gear and the ‘chutes blossomed, it would’ve been no problem, like hundreds of other runs.
“So what ended up happening,” Prusiensky said, “was that when I went to push the clutch in at the finish line, I was a little over and out of the groove. Pushed the clutch in, and usually it pops right out of gear and you let the clutch out and you’re coasting and the ‘chutes come out. Well, the ‘chutes didn’t come out. I’m a little over, out of the groove, and then it didn’t come out of gear. So when I let the clutch out, it tried to start turning the motor over again. Pushed the clutch back in. Thought it was out of gear again. I let the clutch out again.
“When I pushed it in and let it go to the last time, it just was quiet. It took off on me, and there was nothing I could do and even it shows like I knew it. I didn’t tense up, because I had my foot on the brake and actually when it took off it went left, because we can see on the computer which way it was going with the G meter. I actually took my foot off the brake. I would assume that I was relaxed in there because I got a couple bruises,” Prusiensky said, revealing two large, ugly-looking dark contusions on his right arm. “I don’t know how I got that. My legs got a couple little bumps and bruises, I guess from the transmission, but my feet are perfect. I just think that I wasn’t tense in there. I had a couple road rashes [on his neck] from the seatbelt.
“It happened so fast. I’ve driven the car all over the racetrack through first, second, and third gear. But usually by the time I get in fourth gear, if it isn’t going in the right direction, I’m usually done. You’ll never see me down-track wrestling it.”
In this case, he said, “It never skidded on the front tires. Just the back tires locked up from being in gear. It quickly turned and put me into the wall. When I hit the wall, all I remember is that the sky lighted up. It was hard, and then I was knocked cold. I was knocked cold.
“I think what broke my back was when I came down there were no wheels on the car. The engine has a plate behind it, and that hit the track. That’s what broke my back. Most of my pain is like if I fell down on my butt. I don’t think anything happened from going forward, hitting the wall. The broken back [the L5 vertebra, lowest in the lumbar spine] was from hitting the ground,” Prusiensky said. “I watched a video on All Access. They don’t show the video of what happened after it hit the wall. They turned a little bit and then they shut the video off. Well, there’s another video of me going down the racetrack after the accident to a stop. I don’t remember any of that.”
He got out of the car on his own.
“I did,” Prusiensky said, “but the next thing I remember is the [Safety Safari worker] coming in the passenger door. I don’t think there was any passenger door. It had blown off. She was in the car, trying to tell me not to take my stuff off. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listening. I wanted to get out of the car, I wanted all my stuff off. I was bending my neck – it’s so lucky that I didn’t hurt my neck. [In case you have] a broken neck, they want to stabilize you. And they’re doing their job. But the adrenaline is at the highest level and I’m a very calm person. I apologized to her. I said, ‘Listen, I just want a doctor.’ She said, ‘It happens all the time.’ And then I was OK. I walked and the doctor wanted to talk to me. He knew right away that I was hurt, but I didn’t know it yet. So he’s like, ‘You’re probably more hurt than you think.’ I said, ‘I think I’m OK. I think I’m OK. And then my wife came running, and she was nervous. So she gives me a hug and then soon as she hugged me I knew my back was broken. I said, ‘Chris, you got to hold me up. I can’t sit.’ And then they took me away in an ambulance. I knew about a minute after that it was worse than I thought it was.
“But that’s basically the whole thing in a nutshell,” he said. “I’m OK. You feel lucky you’re alive. Does it hurt my racing budget? Sure. But in the end, we’re here to enjoy what we love doing.
“A fan tried to hug me last week, and I was like ‘Dude, I love you, but you can’t hug no more. Don’t touch me.’ I’m not hugging material yet. I’m not a big hugger, anyway.”
Prusiensky might not be a big hugger, but he’s plenty passionate about racing. And he definitely wanted his fellow racers – especially Chris McGaha, who was racing alongside him when the crash occurred – to know that “I don’t want to be like I’m dangerous out here.”
He said, “I showed Chris that I didn’t do anything wrong to jeopardize him. He’s seen it. He said, ‘Alan, I see the same thing you see.’ I said, ‘I just want you to show you that I didn’t do anything stupid out there to jeopardize you. The clutch didn’t become disengaged.’ It just felt good to me to show Chris. Thank God I didn’t hurt him. I’d rather hurt myself than hurt somebody else.”
One thing is for sure: he has learned from the ordeal: “I taught myself how to drive a Pro Stock car. I didn’t have any training or be in a big camp where they teach you. I learned a lot of it by myself by trial and error. That’s definitely a big learning experience, right there.”
He said, “I’ll heal. We’ll learn from it: Don’t make the same mistake twice. We’ll move on, and we’ll forget about it.”
Forgetaboutit – well-said by the Jersey Boy.