Less than a week after breaking her back in a crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Alysha Ruggles returned to the track Saturday to sign autographs for fans and support her father Darryl in his race.
The 19-year-old Canandaigua resident said the injury still hurts, but is doing OK and is going to get through the injury.
"I'm going to be in a brace for 12 weeks, so I won't be racing this year," Alysha said. "I'll be back next year."
The crash occurred at the 360 Smoke Shootout sprint car race last Tuesday, which featured NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.
"A couple people got into each other. I tried to escape the wreck and I ended up hitting the wall," Alysha said. "I hit the wall, went airborne and came down really hard."
Track emergency personnel and first responders arrived on the scene quickly to help Alysha and the other drivers. Darryl said his daughter was evaluated by the first responders and they didn't find anything wrong with her. Alysha told the first responders she didn't want to go to the hospital, but later went to F.F. Thompson Hospital in a crew person's vehicle where doctors diagnosed her with a broken back. She was then transported to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
According to Darryl, the specialist at Strong told them Alysha's L2 vertebrae burst in toward her spine and the vertebrae was just one centimeter from her spine. "The doctor said he's seen 10 of these cases and eight of the 10 have been paralyzed from the neck down," Darryl said. She did not require surgery for the injury, as the doctor said the brace should allow her to heal completely.
Both father and daughter praised the Canandaigua Motorsports Park safety crew and emergency responders for how they handled the crash. Both drivers said they know there are risks involved anytime they get out on the race track.
"The chances of her having a broken back are slim to none because of all the safety equipment in her car," Darryl said. "The safety equipment is made for flipping, crashing and ordinary accidents, not concrete walls, but they have to have concrete walls."
Driver Paul Kinney was also taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was treated and released.
While Stewart took responsibility for causing the crash in an interview over the public address system last week, Alysha and her family don't blame the NASCAR star.
"Our main concern is getting out that it wasn't Tony's fault," Alysha said. "Some people are saying he should get me a new car, but I don't want any of that. He's just another driver. Yeah, he races NASCAR, but he's just another driver when you're out there racing."
Page 2 of 2 - The racing community has shown support for Alysha in the past week from giving well wishes when she signed autographs on Saturday, to sending flowers and cards to her home.
While Alysha has been racing for seven years, she said this was her first major crash. Darryl, who is in his 33rd year of racing, said the same thing could have happened to him on Saturday, but it's not something he thinks about when race time comes. At Saturday's sprint feature, Alysha's father Darryl picked up his fifth win of the season.
"All wins are exciting, but I really wanted to win that race for my daughter," he said. "I told my daughter, 'I'm going to go out and win it for you' and to be able to fulfill my promise was pretty cool."
Canandaigua Motorsports Park promoter Jeremie Corcoran did not return several calls for comment on the accident.