The crash will be etched in the mind of anyone who was at the Indy Mile last year and within sight of turn one. The Grand National field of 18 riders roared off the starting line heading into the turn at near triple-digit speed when things turned disastrous.
According to witnesses two riders hooked bars and veered to the right, directly into the path of more riders starting a chain reaction. None of the riders involved, or those behind them could say exactly who caused the crash and TV replays did not catch the beginning of the incident, but the result was Jethro Halbert, Brandon Robinson, Shaun Russell and Henry Wiles all down in the melee.
Robinson, the leading Rookie of the Year candidate at the time, took the worst of it. He bounced off the top of the air barrier, was launched up into a light pole, bounced violently off the pole and landed outside of the track on an access road suffering severe injuries in the crash. It was the worst pileup of the season in AMA Grand National racing. In the midst of the melee Robinson’s mind temporarily shut out the pain and he was able to focus on a thing of beauty.
“I remember lying there on my back looking up at the stars,” Robinson said of the immediate aftermath of the crash.
Robinson was hurt so badly, with multiple broken bones and internal injuries, people were saying they doubted the 19-year-old would come back.
Robinson’s injuries included a pelvis broken into four pieces, a hip broken into five pieces with part of it shattered into small fragments, a demolished hip socket and a broken lower back. Doctors told Robinson it would be a year before he could even walk.
“I had to teach myself how to walk again,” Robinson says. “But I was actually walking in three months and in four months I was walking pretty good.”
Robinson told his friends while he was in the hospital that he was quitting racing. “Then I flew out to Pomona to watch the last race,” Robinson remembers. “It was then I realized I wanted to race again. I guess it’s just in my blood, it’s a passion.”
Robinson’s comeback was not only about his physical rebuilding, but overcoming the psychological aspect as well.
“It’s still a mental game for me right now, getting back on the bike and getting over that fear,” he said. “I guess I do feel like I’m starting from scratch in certain respects. My body is not the same as it was, it never will be. I’ve got to make due and change my riding style to compensate. It’s going to take a lot of work to get back to where I was.”
The biggest problem for Robinson at the moment is his left leg has no feeling from his knee to his hip and no feeling on the top of his foot. He’ll have to have a hip replacement too, not a fun prospect for a 19-year-old to face, especially considering doctors told him he’ll need a new one every ten years. Yet in spite of the pounding his body has taken Robinson said it’s now or never for him as far as racing is concerned.
“You only get one shot at this and it’s my dream to be the best I can be in the sport,” Robinson said. “I figure, what the hell, I’m going to give it my best shot because I’d kick myself in the rear if I never tried.”
Brandon was helped in his long recovery by his girlfriend and racer Shayna Texter. “She was the one who took care of me,” Robinson explains. “She gave me shots and made sure I took my pain medicine. She was next to me when I was on the couch screaming in the middle of the night.”
Shayna showed true grit of her own, helping her boyfriend through his darkest days, this only a few months after her father, well-known ex-racer Randy Texter, suffered a heart attack and had to have open-heart surgery.
Today Robinson looks thinner and walks with a little more care than he did before his accident, but on the track he still has his naturally relaxed style of riding.
While he doesn’t feel like his skills and confidence are completely back Robinson’s natural talent is such that he’s still getting results. He’s qualified for three nationals so far and at the Gas City (Ind.) Short Track Robinson scored a career best Grand National result of seventh.
Robinson’s positive outlook in the face of daunting struggle is one of the bright stories of the 2010 Grand Nationals. His fans, friends and family are all pulling for the lanky 19-year-old, quick with a smile, bright-eyed kid, who has stringy long black hair and a laid-back attitude, and is seemingly a throwback out of the 1970s. Brandon is facing his fears head on and with his attitude it’s hard not to root him on.