Last Labor Day Jackie Boggs roared around the dirt track at Portsmouth Raceway Park in the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series event and seemed headed for another fantastic finish.
Then a competing car slammed the rear of his car, knocking him sideways into oncoming traffic. His car went airborne, corkscrewed, then turned end over end.
The crowd sat stunned as rescuers used a Jaws of Life hydraulic tool to cut him from the wreckage. The medical helicopter landed and he was lifted off to a hospital.
"Jackie's Labor Day wreck was a freakish accident. I had never seen a car crash quite that way," said track announcer and co-promoter Chuck Greenslate. "The car flipped so fast and violently and came to such an abrupt stop. What was worse is that the car landed right on the driver's side top, essentially on Jackie's head."
Many who saw the accident thought it would be the end of the racing career of the 41-year-old Boggs, if not his life.
"When he left the track in a helicopter we, of course, had no way of knowing the extent of his injuries," said Donna Rayburn, Portsmouth Raceway Park co-promoter. "Everybody was concerned. The crowd fell silent."
But this past Memorial Day weekend, just less than nine months since the accident, Boggs made his return to the Portsmouth track. He was fastest qualifier and won his heat. Then, in the feature, the Big Red Book Stars and Stripes 35, he dominated all the way and wound up winning by nearly half a track.
"It was great seeing him return to victory lane," Rayburn said. "There was a standing ovation from the crowd. Jackie is definitely a fan favorite! There are lots of people who come to Portsmouth Raceway Park to watch Jackie Boggs race.
"Upon learning that he had fractured vertebrae, it is amazing that he is able to return to the dirt racecar, where I am sure, it is not a smooth ride around the track."
Greenslate was astonished at seeing Boggs back and as good as ever.
"It's amazing to think that he won Saturday night's race, considering it was his first time racing at PRP since his crash," Greenslate said. "To go from being cut out of your racecar with the Jaws of Life and life-flighted to Cabell-Huntington Hospital to standing in the winner's circle is quite an accomplishment.
"Jackie is quite a racer, and he's always been a fan favorite at PRP. He's a second generation driver. His late father, a dirt late model hall of fame member, was also a much admired racecar driver. As the track announcer, when I poll kids on who their favorite racer is, most say it's Jackie."
Boggs, whose daytime job is running a weld and repair shop in his hometown of Grayson, Ky., said he was pleased with having come in first in the main event in his first trip back to Portsmouth.
"It was bad," he said of last September's wreck. "It was likely to have ripped my head clean off. It jammed my foot up to where I think one leg must be shorter that the other. I had broken vertebra in my neck and in my back. I still can't turn my head to see to the right, but on a race track you just need to be able to look left anyway."
There was a time when he thought about not racing again.
"But I had a lot of parts left over at the garage enough to put together a new car, a sports dirt track race car, a Chevrolet," he said. "I'm going to race where the money is, and that's right here close to home. I'll be at Portsmouth for the big race on the Fourth of July."
"Everyone in the sport is glad to see him return to his winning ways, after such a devastating crash last September," Rayburn said.
Boggs and the rest of the PRP racers will be in action tonight at PRP for a complete racing program.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.