Gardella Racing was feeling confident after the NHRA E-Town 2003. My team and I lived a dream weekend at Raceway Park when the car broke the national Hot Rod class record for e.t. (8.45) and mph (180). So we were excited to outperform the season's big-name teams during the final event of 2003 on October 25-26, 2003, at Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.
In hopes of qualifying number one, we changed the timers on the nitrous so the car would go faster. On the first two qualifying passes, the Civic experienced an electrical problem. Heading into the third round, the team had yet to qualify. To make it into the field, we had to undo the changes we'd made to the nitrous system.
Since Gardella Racing wanted to qualify at the top of the ladder, we ran the car at its fullest potential. Racing well entails driving the racecar according to the track conditions. Many of you race fans know there were wildfires in California during this race. Therefore, keeping in mind the race conditions, we should've driven the car more conservatively.
The car came out of the hole strongly during the third qualifying pass. At the eighth-mile, however, things changed. The car started to pull to the left, causing one tire to remain in the racing groove while the other was out. I took my foot off the gas pedal and let the car decelerate. In a split second, the car hit the wall head-on.
I learned a valuable lesson the hard way from this run. If a racecar starts to pull, let off the gas, and when it gets too far out from you, hit the clutch. This concept makes perfect sense for those who drive manual cars regularly, but when you're going 150-plus mph, this may not be the first solution that comes to mind. All racers who experience problems on the track should instinctively use the clutch to power off the car.
Before the 2003 season started, I researched modifications that would improve safety. I purchased the Hans Device, which is a neck collar used in many motorsports. I believe I was able to walk away from this accident because of the neck protection the Hans Device provided. If I was wearing any other neck brace, I would have suffered serious injury.
Currently, my main focus is safety. Many people are making modifications to step up their game-not just drag racers, but also fans who want to have the fastest street cars. Safety should be of utmost importance. No one ever thinks they'll be the one to get in a serious accident. Remember, 100-plus mph is no joke; racers need to invest in car and driver safety.
Gardella Racing planned on building a second racecar for the 2004 season, but the accident set us back. During the off-season, we concentrated on rebuilding the Civic. We put the car on the frame machine, pulled it and put it back to the stock measurements. We got an LKQ front end from Spring Auto Recyclers out of Jackson, N.J., put in the stock right front apron and radiator support, and welded up the car. Next, we took the correct measurements and brought the car to the chassis shop, where we built a full-tube chassis. This modification was necessary for the car to go faster than 180 mph.
In the off-season, Gardella Racing's two-man operation spent many hours researching new modifications and rebuilding parts to get the car where it needs to be for the '04 season. -Gary Gardella