I’ve been very proud of my mostly-flawless driving record. Since obtaining my drivers’ license in 2006, I’ve managed to only earn a few minor speeding tickets over the years. I’ve had crashes, but they’ve all involved a certain black-then-purple BMW M3 sedan that was also my racecar, and they all took place on the racetrack. “Red mist” could be the best descriptor for how those happened, but my winning street-driving streak came to an end on New Year’s Eve, and it happened in a press car. I bent up a $77,000 Ram 1500 GT and now we get to talk about it.
I’d been out with friends for, well, can you call it lunch when it ends at 4 PM? More of an early dinner than anything, I suppose. Between a few out-of-towners and locals, we met up at the fabulous Duke’s Grocery for a pre-New-Years-party meal as the afternoon became rainy. Food was consumed, laughs were had, and I gave a few friends a ride home on my way back to my neighborhood. Leaving Garrett’s place, my friend Tim and I crawled through traffic at Mount Vernon Square. It was more stop than go, with plenty of cars backed up waiting to enter the Marriott Marquis’ valet parking area.
Finally, traffic cleared and I began accelerating toward the intersection of Mount Vernon Place and 9th Street. There’s a four-way traffic light there, and I had the green. Traffic on the other side of the intersection, facing me, was still moving slowly, thanks to the Marriott backup. A burgundy Corvette sat there with its left turn signal on, and as I approached the intersection, I saw the driver start to move, then stop.
At this point, my right foot instinctually shifted to hover over the brake pedal. “Oh no he’s not,” I thought. Oh yes, he did. The 18-year-old driving his dad’s C7 Corvette pulled out in front of me to attempt his left turn. I stood on the brakes, cranked the wheel to the right and attempted to avoid the burgundy sports car. It didn’t quite work, and the front left corner of my Ram 1500’s bumper caught the nose of the Corvette. Many plastic-y “thwacks” later, we came to a stop. I had run over one of those orange plastic construction barrels that had been sitting next to the curb, making a small ramp to send my front right wheel up on said curb. No airbags deployed in either car, and every human involved was okay.
Police showed up on the scene quickly to take statements and, a few days later, produce their report. It ended up being wrong, to an amusing extent – my name, address, truck color, and location of damage were all incorrect – but it was something, I guess.
Naturally, I felt awful on a few fronts. I felt bad that this happened with someone else in the truck – though having him as a witness was also a good thing. I felt bad that this kid’s boneheaded maneuver didn’t work out and he had to explain to his dad what he did. And I felt bad that I had damaged a truck that I’d been entrusted with, which would now cost Stellantis’ insurance some money to fix and likely impact the loan schedule for other media.
I had to call both my fleet management team and my Stellantis PR lead – the latter of whom was celebrating her last day before retirement and got a call at 4:45 PM from a journalist apologizing for damaging her truck. In any case, both phone calls were met with a “do not worry, this happens; as long as everyone is okay, that’s what matters.” I know these folks have seen way, way worse damage on so many cars. I still felt bad.
Ultimately, the Ram was drivable and so, Tim and I pointed the slightly-dented truck toward my place. The fleet company took it home a few days later, and it’ll get fixed. The Corvette is likely also able to be repaired, though that’s up to the owners and their insurance.
I loathe the term “accident,” because it absolves every involved party of responsibility. This was a crash between me and the other driver, a crash where he was deemed responsible. And I’m writing this because I believe in owning up to things going wrong, and I do feel fortunate in a few ways.
Years of High Performance Driver Education, followed by years of time trial and wheel-to-wheel racing, have absolutely changed my instincts. I finally practiced what I preach to so many here. My eyes were up, and I noticed the Corvette start to move earlier than I might have if I were only driving to the end of my hood. I knew my “outs,” and knew there was no one to my right. I was comfortable putting my entire body weight on the brake pedal as I attempted to slow the truck. I firmly believe this could have ended with more damage and deployed airbags, and this exact scenario is why I encourage everyone to get behind the wheel on a track and re-train themselves as much as they can.
Our driver education system in the United States is broken. Nobody learns how to handle a vehicle properly unless they seek additional training. If you can swing a weekend with NASA, SCCA, or heck, Out Motorsports… do it. You will avoid most potential crashes and reduce the severity of any that you cannot avoid.