Fasten Your Seat Belt – February 2014
Let me take you back in time, about 60 years. It was 1954. Life in the country of rural Tillamook County was so much more peaceful and quiet than life is today.
It was about 8:30 in the morning and I was just getting ready to walk the .2 mile to school. I was in 6th grade at Blaine Grade School. It was a two-room country school with grades 1-4 in the primary classroom and 5-8 in the “big kids” room. Being in such a rural location, it was very unusual to see an ambulance drive by our house. We lived 23 miles from Tillamook. There was a fire truck stationed at Beaver, just 7 miles away, but we hardly ever saw an ambulance. Anyway, on that specific morning, an ambulance did go past our house, heading someplace further up the Nestucca River Road past the afore-mentioned Blaine Grade School. I arrived at school and saw the students playing outside before classes started. It was probably close to 9 am when we saw the ambulance heading back toward Beaver. “They are probably taking someone to the hospital in Tillamook”, I thought as I saw it drive past the school with red lights flashing. Little did I know what that day would bring.
It was when I got home from school that day that I heard the story of what had happened. Three loggers were on the way to work that morning when the truck in which they were riding had a blow-out on the right front tire. The immediately flat tire pulled the truck to the right as it was rounding a corner. A direct hit on a fir tree kept the truck from going completely off the road and into the river. Of course the direct hit brought the truck to a sudden stop. None of the occupants were wearing seatbelts, as I am not sure any vehicles were equipped with them at that time. The driver’s name was Rueben. The resulting crash severely bent the steering wheel as he slammed into it. Broken ribs and facial injuries were his fate. Roy was sitting in the middle. The crash sent him forward into the dash where his knee took a direct hit resulting in a broken knee cap. Jake was sitting on the right. When the truck hit, he vaulted forward and right into the windshield post, fracturing his skull from front to back, and then downward, through the eye socket and his lower jaw. He had cuts on his nose and under his jaw-line on his neck from the glass of the broken windshield.
Mom met us at home and told us the story when my brothers and I arrived home from school. Little did we know but she had made a visit to Tillamook Hospital that day, because, you see, Jake was my father. He had been stabilized in Tillamook and then moved by ambulance to a hospital in Portland. It would be up to us to milk the cows and do the farm work while dad recovered. It was several days before I was permitted to visit him. I could hardly recognize him as my father. His face was black and blue from the bruises. He has so many stitches on his face, was connected to tubes of all kinds, and his jaw was wired shut because it had been fractured. We were very fortunate that he survived such a violent crash.
The point of my story is this. Perhaps you have witnessed or seen pictures of car crashes on the highway. And, even though we do all we can to prevent it, sometimes at the track; there will be a situation in which a car takes a direct hit on the wall, coming to a sudden stop. The 5-point safety harness is mandated for a reason. With those belts fastened tightly, the driver cannot continue moving forward and will not be injured by the steering wheel or any of the race car’s structural components. As a driver, we do all we possibly can to insure our own safety. As we approach the 2014 racing season, above all else, let’s keep it safe.
Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980. Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip.