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Sam Hafertepe

We were terrible. I had run Devil’s Bowl the week before so I thought we would be pretty good but at The Salina Highbanks we were just terrible. We were fighting the same problem we’d fought all year; losing the right rear. I transferred out of The B Main and got into the feature.

We got to the hospital and they were able to do x-rays and my arm was clearly broken in half.

We hadn’t planned on being real aggressive on the start because we were starting so far back. All I could see on the start was a guy spinning down the front straightaway. The way Salina is it has so much banking down the straightaway that it filters everyone down to the bottom. Naturally you are pulled down too. I saw the wreck and tried to miss it low but they just kept coming down and the next thing I know I’m in the middle of turn 1 and 2 and my whole right side arm guard was gone and my arm was hanging outside of the car.

I couldn’t breathe because the seat was pressed into my ribs pretty hard. Finally I was able to get out of the car and I didn’t even realize my arm was broken at all until I got to the ambulance and calmed down a bit. The medical team assured me that it wasn’t broken.

We got to the hospital and they were able to do x-rays and my arm was clearly broken in half. I wasn’t able to have anything done with my arm because we weren’t able to get to a really good doctor for a few days.

Once a good doctor was able to look at my arm they decided there was enough lacerations on the outside that I needed to take 2 weeks to allow the lacerations to heal before they would actually do surgery on my arm in an attempt to lower the chances of an infection.

Sam Hafertepe Jr.'s broken arm
The X-ray of Sam Hafertepe Jr.'s broken arm

The doctors we’re actually really good. When I was actually able to go in for surgery I picked one of the best doctors in Dallas; Dr. Earl Lund and he did a really good job. Earl was always trying to push me to get movement back in my wrists right away since I’d dislocated bones in my wrists as well. If I hadn’t done that I might never have gotten full movement back in my wrists again. Him pushing me helped me get back to form faster that I thought I would.

It was a fairly long period of time that I was off. I got really depressed during that period of time. During that time I also started thinking about safety things to keep things from happening to guys that happened to me.

When you get out of surgery you can’t do a damn thing.

When you get out of surgery you can’t do a damn thing. You can’t do anything for quite a while. Especially with an injury like mine because any type of movement on a complete break risks that it won’t heal it properly. I had to be really conscious to not do a lot but at the same I was at my Dad’s track trying to help out and probably over-exerting myself. I was kind of able to figure out a point where too much was too much.

As far as rehabilitation goes I had exercises that I had to do every day. I probably did more than what the doctor told me to do but that was me thinking that if I could do all of this I would be able to come back faster. That was my whole mindset anyway. I’ve always felt like I could do that in anything. I felt like I was always a pretty tough person but the more and more the doctor started to explain it to me the more I realized I wasn’t going to speed up the process.

I’d had my hopes up that I’d be able to come back earlier than they were saying but my doctor sat down and told me that it didn’t matter how hard I’d try, a broken bone is a broken bone. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60 or 20. The healing time is a little faster for a younger guy but if it was a muscle tear or something like that I could train and work hard and get back from that earlier but because it’s a bone I was kind of limited. I had a time frame and that was it.

I started thinking about a lot of different things. Obviously breaking your arm is smaller than what some other guys have gone through but it still makes you question how important racing is to yourself and if you’re willing to go through things like this to keep doing something that you love. I thought about all of that stuff for all 3 months that I was out.

I listened to my doctor quite a bit because he knew I was pretty depressed about the whole situation and that I couldn’t do anything. Other than your exercises you sit on the couch all day and watch TV. You’re not doing anything or making any money.

Sam Hafertepe Jr.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. returned from injury to win his first 2 races back

People may not realize it but when you go into hospitals or you do anything like that you pay for everything, there’s not one thing that you don’t pay for. My main doctor was probably the cheapest part of my whole deal. Insurance companies dodge you. My parents own a race track and it really pisses me off that they dodge you so bad. I got so fed up with trying to chase them down that I just paid for everything myself.

It pisses me off because you go to a race track and you know things can happen but one way or another you think you’re going to be taken care of and I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt like the insurance company was trying to dodge me so much. I had probably $5,000 worth of bills just riding to the hospital in the ambulance and getting x-rays done which should have been taken care of through my insurance company. None of it was actually taken care of at all, they dodged me from day one and we had done all of the things we were supposed to do.

People may not realize it but when you go into hospitals or you do anything like that you pay for everything, there’s not one thing that you don’t pay for.

In all honesty I was hoping the doctor wouldn’t release me the week I was planning to come back. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to race that race because I was scared of what might happen when I did come back. If I came back too soon would I not be good enough? Was is too soon for my arm? Was I going to hurt it worse?

My car owner and my dad were pushing pretty hard to race again so I got my appointment pushed up a little earlier. My doctor said that I wasn’t fully healed but he was releasing me.

I was so nervous going into the first race back. It was an ASCS regional race, it’s not like it was an Outlaw show but I’d been out for 3 months and my arm was basically a noodle.

The track was exactly how I didn’t want it for my first race back; rough and heavy. On top of that I was trying to come back on a track like that in car I’d never raced before. Fortunately I knew right after hot laps that I was going to be fine and the car was really good right out of the trailer.

Sam Hafertepe Jr.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. won 6 of 13 races following his return from a broken arm | photo: Jeffrey Turford

We dominated every aspect of the race. We dominated the heat race. We dominated the feature and I never really faced a serious challenge from anyone.

As a driver you know when you’ve done well and when you haven’t. I felt like a I did a good job. I’d run harder than I probably would have some times in the past but it was because I was afraid of getting beat. Coming back from the injury I had a lot to prove to myself and my car owner; Keith Dobbs. I’d exceeded my expectations. I knew we were supposed to beat the guys we were racing. For the most part we were racing weekly racers and I make my living doing this but at the same time I wasn’t sure how much my arm would actually limit me. I felt like it didn’t limit me at all.

The following night we were awesome again in the feature. It was unreal.

It bothers me a lot, I think as a racing community we need to be more aware of everybody, not just the big names.

Getting into Keith’s car really boosted my confidence. Things had not been good up to that point. We were terrible at the beginning of the year, then I broke my arm. I was already down on myself before I broke my arm so once I broke it I really felt like my back was against the wall. To hop in that car at that time and run so good made it all seem so easy. We shouldn’t have been that fast but we were. It was a combination of what we did, we really weren’t doing crazy things to make it happen.

Coming off the injury and getting in a car like that saved me from being down on myself more than anything because every time I got in that car I knew I had a chance to win. I feel like if I’d have gotten back into my own car we would have struggled for a while. It wouldn’t have been arm-related, we were struggling before the injury already. If I hadn’t gotten in Keith’s car I think I maybe might have won 1 race all year. We ran 13 times in Keith’s car and we won 6 races. I feel like getting into his car was the whole key to coming back.

If there was one thing that bothered me, if there is one message from my story that I would like to get out there it’s this: We are a racing community and I feel like we need to do a better job of taking care of the racing community. What I’m about to say might anger or upset some people but it’s what I believe based on my experience.

As a racing community I know we always try to help people but to be honest I didn’t have a lot of people reach out to help me. It somewhat bothered me but at the same time I’m not some guy who’s going to get on Twitter and try to say why don’t you come help me out because that’s not really who I am.

The World of Outlaw Benevolent Fund did help out and that was an awesome help to me and I was really pleasantly surprised to receive a check from Mandy Pittman. I thought that was really thoughtful because it’s not like Daryn and I are really close or anything.  As far as anyone else reaching out that never really happened.

I’m fortunate to come from a family that can afford to go through what I went through financially and no it didn’t ruin me or anything but it just bothered me that the help wasn’t there.

I feel like we have all of these driver’s funds set up and I felt like that was an appropriate time for those people to jump in and do something to help. Not even just for my sake. I think about other guys who get put in the same situation that don’t get a lot of help but if it’s a real, real big name no matter what it is those same people are the first one’s to jump on it.

I think as a racing community we need to be more aware of everybody, not just the big names. Without the small names we aren’t a racing community, you’ve got to have everybody.

It’s just something I think everyone needs to look at down the road, regardless of whether or not it’s your favorite driver because we all do need help in situations like that. I hope in the future we can do a better job of helping out everyone in the racing community regardless of their status or recognition and I truly hope that we can be the racing community that I envision.

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