The Survival Of Alex Zanardi

NOTE: I WILL BE INCLUDING GRAPHIC PHOTOS IN THIS ARTICLE. I WILL PROVIDE NO PRIOR WARNING, HOWEVER.

Also note that there will be no input from me, as I have never – and will never – listen to how the English broadcasters reacted to the crash. Blood is visible in the photos I will be showing.

On September 11th, 2001, the United States of America was attacked, and almost three thousand innocent lives were ended. Motorsport paid tribute in many different ways, and several races were either postponed or cancelled, including the NASCAR race in New Hampshire, which would eventually be held under the freezing late November sun. On the other hand, the planned German 500 CART race at Eurospeedway Lausitz in Germany was still held, but it did receive a name change to the American Memorial. Horrifyingly, the American Memorial almost saw the end of an extremely experienced and beloved veteran’s life in what is sometimes seen as the most violent non-fatal crash in all of open wheel racing.

Alex Zanardi (at right); Credit to lifegate.it

If there’s one word that can describe Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi, it’s ‘daredevil’. Born in 1966 in Italy, Alex began karting at the age of four and eventually moved to Italian F3. He did well despite subpar speed, and eventually found his way into Formula 3000 in 1991, where he finished second.

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Zanardi c. 1992; Credit to Minardi.it

In 1991, Zanardi made his debut in Formula One for Jordan. He finished ninth on debut in Spain, which wasn’t a points spot at the time, but was still a good run. He retired in Japan, and came home ninth again at Australia. In 1992, he attempted three races for Minardi, only qualifying for one, and even then he didn’t even last a lap in that one race. Zanardi switched to Lotus in 1993 and ran well when he finished, even netting a point with a sixth place at Brazil. Unfortunately, his season ended early after he was concussed during practice at Belgium. 1994 went terribly for Zanardi, and Lotus folded their team at year’s end. Zanardi spent 1995 racing sports cars, and during the fall traveled to the United States to see if he could find a ride in CART. He tested with Chip Ganassi and impressed them enough to secure a full time berth in 1996. Though his season started poorly, Zanardi started to pick up the pace, and at season’s end he was third in the points with three wins, one of these coming when he dove the car into the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca on the last lap to pass Bryan Herta. This move, known as “The Pass”, was ruled legal, but is no longer permitted.

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Credit to Flickr

Zanardi was a very popular driver on the CART scene. He often got himself into unneeded crashes, but when he finished races cleanly, it was usually towards the front. He won the 1997 and 1998 titles in CART with five wins in 1997 and seven, including four in a row, in 1998. However, Zanardi decided to depart CART for F1 in 1999, signing a contract with Williams. He never scored a point that year, and returned to the States in 2000. Zanardi spent the year testing, and eventually signed with Mo Nunn Racing in 2001.

On September 15th, 2001, Zanardi was leading at Lausitz, a new 2.023 mile oval in Klettwitz, Germany. The race, unlike many other major motorsport events, had not been cancelled, but had been renamed to the American Memorial in tribute to the lives lost during 9/11. The CART drivers were in Germany for a two race jaunt, with another race at the new speedway in Rockingham-Corby, UK coming up shortly thereafter. Zanardi had had a poor year for Mo Nunn Racing. He hadn’t won anything, and had a best finish of fourth. The pressure seemingly got to him when he floored the accelerator a little too hard while leaving the pit lane on lap 142 of 154, something he later admitted was likely on him.

Patrick Carpentier was informed over the radio that Zanardi was approaching. He was running up front, though he wasn’t right behind Zanardi, who was leading by thirty seconds. As Carpentier approached the merging Zanardi, he was stunned to see the #66 car spin. Looking for a lane, Carpentier swerved up the circuit and missed Zanardi by an inch. Unfortunately, Alex Tagliani was right behind Carpentier. His #33 car ran unsighted and full-bore towards Zanardi. He simply was unable to see it coming. Tagliani saw that he was too close to Zanardi to fully circumvent the #66, so he flicked his car to the left a little (which was revealed to have saved them both, as if Tagliani hadn’t aimed for the front, Zanardi would have perished instantly, and it’s likely Tagliani would have as well) and braced. Tagliani remembered screaming in his head, but Zanardi stated that he does not recall his reaction. In fact, the last thing he recalls was driver introductions that day.

 

Tagliani obliterated Zanardi’s Reynard at about 195mph, sending the #33 airborne and shearing off the #66’s front end completely and sending the rest of the car spinning around several times until it came to a stop near the wall, Zanardi facing away from the crowd. The race was yellow flagged and finished under caution, with Kenny Br├Ąck being handed the win. In the meantime, officials rushed over to the scene, in disbelief.

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Credit to racingmotorsports.br
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Credit to The Fastlane
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Credit to The Fastlane
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Credit to Documenting Reality

The crash had done ungodly damage to Zanardi. Shrapnel and other pieces had gone flying, and the front of the car had been torn off. Even worse, Zanardi’s legs were completely destroyed, with director of medical affairs Steve Olvey noting that his legs had exploded as if he’d stepped on a land mine. His right leg was gone at the knee, and only a few inches of the upper left leg remained. He was bleeding out.

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A recent photo of Trammell; Credit to IndyCar
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Credit to The Fastlane

Chief orthopedic consultant Terry Trammell arrived on scene in a truck. From the truck, he thought he saw an oil slick on the circuit. When he stepped on the circuit, however, he noticed that the oil was actually blood, and before he could avoid it, Trammell had slipped. Trammell got back to his feet, slipped again, and then traveled to the scene on his knees. Trammell was stunned by the awful injuries suffered by Zanardi. His femoral arteries were both severed, and he was gushing blood “like a hose” (SI). Trammell opened an airway for Zanardi and used the remaining skin on his right leg to fold over the wound, after which he formed a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. The left leg was another story, as there was not enough left there for the same procedure. As a last resort, Trammell used a crewman’s belt to stop the bleeding, only for it to loosen as Zanardi was loaded into the ambulance.

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Credit to sportsnet; Note that the green-uniformed man is Steve Olvey

Olvey decided to request a chopper to take Zanardi to Berlin, and the chopper met the ambulance at the hospital. He was given a fifty-fifty shot of surviving the 50 kilometer trip to Berlin, and as such was given last rites from a priest. Olvey and Trammell went inside the hospital to go check up on Tagliani, who himself was injured, though not seriously. When they left, to their horror, they saw that the chopper was still outside the hospital, the German medics seemingly trying to stabilize Zanardi inside the chopper itself. It had been a little under nineteen minutes since the tourniquets had been applied, and Olvey knew that Zanardi’s chances had decreased further. Olvey recalled taking the pilot by his shirt and demanding he leave, first in English, then in the little German he knew. Within a few seconds, the chopper had departed.

Zanardi arrived at a trauma unit in Berlin fifty-six minutes after the crash. He’d already gone into cardiac arrest once on the chopper, and his vital signs were incredibly low. The average adult has a blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90, a hemoglobin count of 16, and four liters of blood in his or her body. Zanardi’s blood pressure was 60/0, his hemoglobin count was 3, and he only had one liter left of blood. Daniela Zanardi, his spouse, arrived some time thereafter. According to Ashley Judd, then-wife of Dario Franchitti, Daniela Zanardi took the news of Zanardi’s legs very well.

Zanardi, his wounds finally secured and closed as best as they could, went into surgery some time thereafter, where his legs were completely removed, and was awakened out of a coma three days later. He’d lost his legs, and had a long rehabilitation in his future, but he was alive.

 

Zanardi, who specially designed his own prosthetic legs, eventually returned to racing. He ran thirteen laps in a special car before CART’s return trip to Lausitz in 2003, those being the thirteen laps he never finished, and began running touring cars. He won several races in the World Touring Car Championship and also ran GT3 events such as Blancpain GT. He has since mostly retired from racing cars, though Zanardi does still run occasional races here and there as a special guest in mostly national events. Additionally, Zanardi competed in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He took two golds in London, including the Road Race event, which was partially held at Brands Hatch, and won two more golds at Rio. He’s still going strong, and he’s still as inspirational as ever.

 

 

Sources:

“After the Miracle Having barely survived a horrific crash in which he lost both legs, Alex Zanardi is attacking rehab with the same passion and purpose that made him a racing champion”, Sports Illustrated, April 15, 2002

“Zanardi Loses His Legs in Crash”, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2001

“Zanardi crash ‘like bomb had gone off'”, Crash.Net, September 21, 2001

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The World Trade Center Grand Prix

Built in 1973 and brought down on September 11th, 2001, the twin towers stood magnificently over the horizon of New York City. Two thousand, nine hundred and seventy eight innocent lives were lost that day fifteen and a half years ago, with all but about 225 being in New York City at the Towers. I barely remember that day, though I do remember it. The sight of smoke over the horizon is something that you just don`t forget. The fact that I could see it despite being well over forty miles away just shows you the magnitude of the disaster.

People from all over were killed. I personally believe four or five residents of my town perished. My town is not exactly one where everyone knows each other, as it`s actually quite large, but it`s still a town where crime is infrequent and murders happen maybe once every five to ten years. The daily routine is: You get up, you go to school/work, possibly pulling into a gas station if need be (I live in New Jersey, so we don`t pump our own gas, which I actually love), you attend school/work, you do anything else you need to, you come home, and that`s that. It`s a large town with a bit of a small town feel, so that day is still spoken of frequently here.

Which makes it all the more understandable why no one remembers what happened on February 26, 1993. On that day, a bomb was set off in one of the towers` basements, with the intention of causing it to domino onto the other tower and bring both down. It was a powerful bomb, but didn`t have the intended effect of felling the towers. Even still, it did cause a high amount of destruction and chaos: well over a thousand injuries were reported, nearby residents went without television signals for a week and power overall for five hours, and six lives were lost. The perpetrators were caught and brought to justice, but after 9/11, this attack is rarely noted.

The attack on Feburary 26th also had another bizarre, and indirect, effect: completely ending any chance of the CART Grand Prix Of New York being held.

Scheduled for either June 27, 1993, or July 11, 1993 (I`ve heard both), the Marlboro CART Grand Prix Of New York was first proposed in 1990 and was announced in 1992. A race in downtown New York had been something organizers had wanted to do since the beginning of motorsport, yet the closest they`ve ever gotten was, or will be, the shoreline streets of Brooklyn later this year for a Formula E race, though there have been a few karting events on short street circuits every once in a while.

The track itself was, suffice to say, not enough either, though due to its location its simplistic layout was justified (it didn`t require the closure of too many streets). It was 1.3 miles, and about eight or so turns, five major ones with the rest being small kinks. The track encircled the Twin Towers, and as such is often remembered as the World Trade Center Street Circuit. The race was apparently going to be between 180 and 200 miles, meaning they`d probably be either 139 laps for 180 miles, 144 laps for 187 miles (300km), or 154 laps for 200 miles. The Lights race would likely have been 58 laps for 75 miles, as that was the usual length of Lights races around that time.

Upon this announcement, the Meadowlands Grand Prix was almost immediately cancelled. The Meadowlands Grand Prix was held at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, not too far from the city. The race at the Meadowlands was already losing steam around that time, but with the announcement of the New York race, the organizers quickly bailed on the East Rutherford event and called it off. They learned some time later that bailing was a big mistake. Many of these organizers thought that it was just the end of the beginning for the New York GP, and that, with the race finally announced, it would be held and be a huge success.

In fact, it was the beginning of the end.

The big problem with the race, besides the obvious closure of the streets and the need for them to be repaved, was in the sponsor – Marlboro. The entire country in general was sort of doing an anti-smoking crusade, as all withheld effects had been released to the public in the late eighties, and the government had started to crackdown on tobacco advertising. New York`s mayor, Michael Dinkins, was staunchly for the crackdown, and had banned tobacco advertisements from sports arenas in the city in 1990. Dinkins promised a series of small events and programs geared towards children to teach the dangers of smoking. So the race, which Marlboro had wanted to basically be a big Marlboro advertisement with billboards everywhere, was also planning on holding several events geared towards youngsters showing them that smoking was unhealthy and unbecoming. Marlboro voiced their displeasure, leading to concerned parents on one end and an angry sponsor on the other.

While the logical move would have likely been to find a middle ground, it`s safe to say that there was no middle ground. These were the early 1990s, after all, the public had recently learned that all the harmful effects of tobacco and asbestos that had been conspiracies for the longest time were truthful, and they were extremely distrustful of big companies in general. Marlboro`s next move was never disclosed, though with Dinkins not budging on the kids` events, they likely decreased the amount of money they were feeding into the event. The event pretty much sat on a table for a few weeks after that, but Marlboro did eventually agree to some anti-smoking billboards in certain sections of the general area. However, the political hypocrisy, as one writer called it, had taken its toll.

In early October, the Marlboro Grand Prix Of New York was called off. The cash flow from Marlboro did not make up for the logistical issues in closing off major streets in New York City and repaving those streets for a CART race. The attack on February 26th, 1993 sealed its fate, with the city pouring millions into its own recovery.

New York has tried several times for a race in or near the city limits. Throughout its history, several F1 street circuits have been proposed, including one in Flushing Meadows in 1985 and Central Park in 2009, plus several downtown circuits throughout the seventies and eighties. Several speedways have been proposed as well. One just outside the city limits came close to being built in the late eighties before some key players in the project were arrested, and a 1.35 mile trioval by the name of Liberty Speedway was proposed in 2003, with the man at the helm of the project being none other than our current president. But, at the end of all roads lay failure for every project to host a race near the American center of commerce, and the World Trade Center street circuit was no exception. The Formula E race in July 2017 was the first time a major race was held in city limits, and even then it was on the outer edge.