By Marty Gordon
August 9, 2020, is a day Derrick Lancaster would like to forget.
The Christiansburg racer was rushed to the hospital after being involved in the most serious accident he has had in his20-plus years in the sport. He had been pulled from a Late Model race car that had catapulted over another car and into the Turn 4 wall at Kingsport Speedway.
MRI results showed a hairline fracture at the base of his skull. He did not require surgery but was in a neck brace for three months and was advised by doctors not to race again. The doctor’s words were simple: “Mr. Lancaster, you may never be able to race again.”
The injury was very similar to one that had killed NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.
But Lancaster, who has made more than 100 starts between Motor Mile Speedway and Kingsport Speedway since 2008, was determined to work through rehab and see what those doctor’s words really meant for his time on the track.
“At first, I couldn’t move my neck, and, yes, I was worried,” he said Sunday sitting in his office at Total Car Care and Truck Service.
Those comments came less than 24 hours after he suited up and got behind the wheel of his ARCA race car for new-year testing at Daytona Speedway.
‘It’s like chewing gum or riding a bike. You don’t forget,” he said.
Lancaster admitted to having some reservations, but when the flag fell, he was all business. When he finished his run, he led testing in the ARCA Menards Series at Daytona International Speedway. Saturday, he pushed his car to the front for a lap of 183.902 miles per hour with a .046 second lead over Ty Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It felt great,” Lancaster said.
The return to the track did not come without a lot of effort. “I did everything the doctor asked of me including wearing a neck brace for most of the past three months. I also had to get a written release from the doctor,” he said.
He spent most of the past few months traveling back and forth to the Johnson City doctor who first saw him after the accident. “It wasn’t easy on my family. It wasn’t easy for me,” Lancaster said.
The time in between was very emotional, according to Lancaster, but in the back of his mind he always knew he wanted to be back in the seat of a race car again.
He plans to run the big race at Daytona next month. So far in three tries, he has not finished the race after small mishaps in heavy traffic. Now, he has his eyes on qualifying near the front and having all those other racers chasing him.
The Kingsport track accident was not his first incident, but it definitely was the most serious. “After I hit the wall, I looked down and my pants were on fire,” Lancaster said. “The car was on fire. I told myself that would not be the way I would end it. “For the past three months, it has been hard for me to talk about the accident.”
This weekend’s run might erase at least a part of that.
“My phone has not stopped ringing since I grabbed the top of the board,” Lancaster said.
His run came with an all-volunteer race crew that has full-time jobs back here in the New River Valley.
“That’s what made it feel so much better against crews with full-time crew members,” he said.
The team did hire veteran crew chief Marcus Richmond, which helped leading into the trials.
Lancaster has been a frequent competitor in the Dirty Dozen Late Model series. All five of his Top-10 finishes came at Motor Mile, and he has run four ARCA races in the past four years, scoring a career-best finish of sixth at Talladega Superspeedway in 2014.
He will return to Florida for the February 13 season opening event. He also plans to run the Late Model season at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford this summer.