On the final night of April, after claiming a come from behind victory in the Bowman Gray Stadium (NC) season opening Modified feature, Burt Myers lingered outside his hauler. He was still wearing exactly what he had worn when he emerged victorious nearly an hour earlier – his trademark black-and-silver driver’s suit, an Earnhardt #3 hat, and a grin that stretched from ear-to-ear. Knowing Burt, the grin probably stuck around long after changing out his hat and firesuit.
It’s hard to pull against this North Carolina racer with an infectious smile and solid talent. Plenty do, mind you. But that Saturday, even the boo-birds couldn’t help but whistle a friendly tune for the local hero who still insists he’s just happy to be alive after one of the toughest months of his racing career.
Flash back to the beginning of April to a Whelen Southern Modified race at Hickory, and the questions after the race of “what’s wrong” with Burt Myers. Myers entered the 2011 Whelen Tour season as the defending champion, but a tire penalty in the opener and a so-so eighth-place finish that Hickory evening suddenly saw Burt nearly a hundred points back of the title lead just two races down into the season.
So things weren’t already going great when Myers rolled into Ace Speedway on April 15 to take part in a Supermodified event, his first ever try at those style of machines. After turning in some good laps in practice, Myers seemed to have finally found a good chance to nab his first victory of 2011. But while finishing up his practice runs, Myers had his throttle hang entering turn one. Fans in the stands audibly gasped as Myers’ car went nearly head-on into the wall between one and two, got airborne, and took out some of the billboards along the outside of turn two before coming to rest in pieces.
Track, nor machine, nor driver fared well in that deal with driver taking the worst blow as Myers was rushed to the hospital with three cracked ribs and a punctured lung.
On a team video released after the crash, Myers summed up the wild ride.
“It was a pretty scary wreck. It’s just a pretty bad feeling when you go into a corner and you lift the throttle and the accelerator stays down.
“When I realized I was still alive, in my mind, the thing in a racecar in a bad wreck is to get out. I felt the heat around me, I thought the car was on fire and I tried to get out as quick as possible. When I realized that I was out of the car and I was away from the fire, I realized I was hurt pretty bad and my ribs were hurt.”
Myers quickly went to work on the logical follow-up question: After going through that, how do you get back in a racecar?
“Man, that’s a tough question,” Myers told Speed51.com after his opening-night win at the Stadium. “It’s not tough for me, but it’s tough to explain to somebody that doesn’t really have the feeling that we do about racing. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
And get back to racing Myers did in a hurry. Immediately upon being released from the hospital the following Sunday morning, he and wife Kim didn’t head west back to their home in Winston-Salem. Instead, they went north and east to watch the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour in action at South Boston Speedway in Virginia and cheer on Lee Jeffreys, who was piloting Myers’ familiar #1.
A couple of shocked Myers fans at the gate asked Myers if they were mistaken when they heard about his accident. He lifted up the lower half of his shirt to reveal a massive bandage covering his entire right ribcage, grinned, and headed up to the press box where he managed to coach Jeffreys onto a solid top-10 finish over the team radio.
“I bribed the doctor into putting a temporary chest tube in so I could come and at least watch South Boston,” Myers laughed. “Personally, I felt like running the next race at Caraway [the following Saturday], but I thought to myself that points were out of the question already on the Tour so I thought I better go ahead take it easy.”
Myers only “took it easy” for five more days after the Caraway race before finding himself behind the wheel once more. Just prior to the Ace accident, Myers had been invited to compete in the prestigious Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at Richmond International Raceway (VA) in a car prepared by Team Dillon Motorsports and RCR. And while Late Models are not Myers’ forte, nothing was going to stop him from putting on the best race he possibly could.
“I was able to run Richmond for Team Dillon and RCR and that #3 and that was awful special to me. The thing about it is we were planning on going to test the Wednesday before the race, but since I got busted up I couldn’t go test. And that really hurt us because we were behind when we got there and I feel like if I could have got some time in the car, we could have got it closer when we unloaded. The guys worked really hard and they tried to get it as good as they could for me. We were really good at the end, but we just ran out of time. I want to thank them for the opportunity to drive that car and I hope it can happen again.”
Myers still finished a very respectable eighth in the Showdown, right behind NASCAR stars Kyle Busch, Michael Waltrip, and winner Denny Hamlin.
And then finally to close out the topsy-turvy month of April, Myers started the defense of his 2010 Bowman Gray track championship with a victory in the season-opening GMAC Insurance 200. Much as was the theme of the month for Myers, this one was earned the hard way. Myers had not been in contention for most of the evening and a late pit stop left him at the edge of the top-ten. But fresh tires allowed Myers to come to the front with just twenty-five laps to go, wrestle the lead away from Brian Loftin in a thrilling side-by-side battle, and then hold off Jonathan Brown for the victory.
In Victory Lane, it was clear Myers was grateful for how everything had turned out in the end.
“You know, I almost left this world three weeks ago,” were the very first words out of Myers’ mouth. “It means a lot to win. And He [pointing towards Heaven] did it.”
Whether they cheered or booed for Burt Myers that Saturday night, the fans of Bowman Gray Stadium left glad that Myers was there.
“Several people have come over and asked me how I felt, and I said I felt really good. And they said they were praying for me and I said, ‘You know, maybe that’s why I feel so good.’ But I don’t deserve it; The Lord is awful good to me. The well wishes and everything I’ve gotten from everybody – you know, it’s pretty special to you when you get prayers and well wishes from people you don’t even know.”