It’s been over a week now since Ted Charters almost lost his life at the race track. The injuries are gradually beginning to heal, and the pain is slowly starting to fade. But the memories are vivid, and haunting, as if it all just happened yesterday.

“I’m still going through it every night,” says Charters. “I’ve had a few experiences in my life, but never anything like this.”

Saturday, October 8 started out like al-most any other race day at the local Merritt Speedway. Charters reported early to the pit area, ready and willing to help out any and all of the drivers and their crews on the final weekend of stock car racing for the season.

Charter’s good friend, Larry Ruttan, was putting his new hobby car through its paces.

“He [Larry] went out to do the time trial and was having trouble getting fuel to the carburetor,” explains Charters. “It was basically crapping out on him. He came in and we heard a whining noise. I had the hood off the car and was revving the engine. I gave it one last throttle hit and all of a sudden I heard a huge bang and then I was on the ground. I felt like I had been hit by a giant sledge hammer.”

What in fact had happened was the car’s water pump had exploded, in turn causing both the engine fan and the fan belt pulley to separate and come flying off. The metal pulley hit Charters right in the head, throwing him back ten feet in the air.

“It happened so quick,” recalls Charters. “One minute I’m standing over the car, the next moment I’m down and in a lot of pain.”

At almost 4,500 rpm, the metal pulley had sheared off and struck Charters full on the forehead, peeling him open. Miraculously, he survived the initial impact.

“They [The doctors afterwards] told me that had the point of impact been a half an inch to the left, it would have struck my temple and I probably wouldn’t have made it.”

The pulley also struck Charters just inches above both eyes before flying 30 feet into the air. Meanwhile, the fibreglass fan virtually disintegrated, with pieces shooting out all over the track. Some were found over 200 feet away on the outside of the oval by the souvenir booth.

“In the 30-plus years that I’ve been working on cars, I have never, ever seen a water pump go like that,” states Charters.

After the explosion, help got to the seriously injured Charters fast, and probably saved his life. First on the scene were the two designated trackside first-aiders – Gerry Garrett and Rob Rose – followed shortly thereafter by two other qualified first responders, Wes Bryan from Pinatan Lake and Murray Jones from Langley. All four came sprinting at full speed, and were at his side in seconds.

“They were so quick,” states Charters, who remained conscious throughout the ordeal. “They held me down, put pressure on my injuries, and tried to keep me as calm as possible. I was in a lot of pain and I was trying to get up. I just didn’t realize how bad off I was. I also remember being pretty irate because they had to cut my jacket off, and I didn’t want my new jacket ruined.”

A witness to the initial explosion and all that followed was Ted’s wife, Kim, who was working out by the spectator stands at the time.

“Jackie [Pike, the pit boss] came running over and said that I was needed in the pits,” says Kim. “At first, I thought they just needed another first-aider. There were so many people. I couldn’t tell who was hit. Then I looked at Jackie and said, ‘Is it Ted?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Is it bad?’ And she simply replied, ‘Yes.'”

When Kim arrived on scene, she saw Gerry, Rob, Wes and Murray working feverishly to assist her fallen husband.

“They were simply amazing. They did everything possible to keep Ted conscious – stabilizing him, giving him oxygen, talking to him, squeezing him or getting him to squeeze them.”

Kim had just as much praise for the ambulance attendants who arrived shortly thereafter.

“They were there in probably less than 15 minutes,” she says. “They were phenomenal. They went way above and beyond. Even when we got to the hospital, they stayed there with Ted a good hour and a half, calming and comforting him. I’ve never seen ambulance attendants take it to that degree.”

Ted was ‘patched up’ by Dr. Vandermeer in emergency that night. It took over 30 stitches and several staples.

“We can’t thank them enough for their wonderful care.”

The outpouring of concern and love from the racing community has affected both Ted and Kim deeply.

“Bill Fader, one of the drivers and a good friend of mine, came by the house and gave me the trophy that he’d got on Saturday, and the tools he’d won on the raffle,” relates Ted. “Then he handed me an envelope with $1,500 in it – donated by all the drivers and people at the track. I guess when Bill got his prize money on Saturday, he turned around and said, ‘This is going in the Ted fund.’ Pretty soon, everybody was doing it. Hearing that put me into tears.”

Incredibly Charters paid a visit to the track on Sunday, only 24 hours after his traumatic accident.

“I didn’t do it for myself. I did it for everybody else who had been there that day. I wanted them to know that I was alright, and not to worry. To ease their mind, I wanted to go back and say, ‘Yes, I’m fine. I’ll heal, and I’ll be racing next year’.”

Yes, Charters says he will be back doing what he loves for sure. Only this time, it’ll be behind the wheel, not as a pit mechanic.

“I’ll be driving next year. Bill has found me a car [an ’82 Camero] and starting next week, we’re going to begin stripping it down and getting it ready for next season.”

Charter’s new car will have the #95 on it, and a lightning bolt, in honor of his grandson, Preston.

“He’s a Lightning McQueen fan, from the movie Cars,” explains Ted. “When he heard that I was getting my own car, he asked me if I would paint it, and put the lightning bolt and #95 on it. It’ll be something to see Bill and I racing against each other next year in our own cars.”

In the meantime, Ted faces weeks and months of healing time, and the possibility of some plastic surgery. It’ll be a tough go, but both he and Kim know they’ll get through it thanks in no small part to the love and best wishes they’ve received from everyone around them.

“I cannot put into words how much it has meant to both of us,” stated Kim in a heart-felt letter written earlier this week. “Everyone has gone way beyond anything we ever expected. They have shown us what a fine, upstanding and close-knit family that the racers and everyone at the Merritt Speedway becomes when the chips are down. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.”

A MESSAGE

FROM THE PRESIDENT

Merritt Stock Car Association president Gino Boszko says that Ted Charter’s accident on the Thanksgiving weekend was “an isolated incident, something that doesn’t happen very often. That said, it’s still very sobering, and reminds everyone of that small portion of racing that exists.”

Like the Charters, Boszko is full of praise for the first-aiders at the track who rushed to Ted’s assistance. “They did an exemplary job – the speed with which they reacted, and their abilities.”

Boszko is sure that the accident will lead to some important safety discussions at the association’s rules meeting in November.

As for the racing community’s response to the incident and subsequent support for the Charters, Boszko states, “Racers are one big family. They want to beat the pants off each other on the track, but when something like this happens, it’s all forgotten. Everybody pulls together.”