Baranek: Wild Talladega nightmare doesn’t deter Affarano dream
Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5947 May 8, 2012 8:10PM
Mike Affarano (83) flips his car during the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 250 ARCA auto race Friday at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. | AP photo
“I was fine through the whole thing. When (rescue workers) came to the window they went, ‘Living in there? OK?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. Get this car on its wheels. Get me out of here!’ When I got my feet back down on the ground I was like, ‘OK. Nothing hurts.’ ”
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:46AM
If there’s one piece of racing equipment Shorewood native Mike Affarano resisted the most during his local dirt racing career, it’s a head and neck supporter called the HANS Device.
“I hated it,” he said. “I’ve never liked it. I never had to wear one.”
Until he made his ARCA debut in Friday’s Talladega 250 at Talladega Superspeedway, anyway. ARCA mandates that its drivers wear a HANS device.
He had no choice.
Affarano is thinking a little differently today after not only surviving, but walking away from a spectacular/hellacious/horrifying wreck on the 2.6-mile oval.
“After this deal I wouldn’t get in a street stock without a HANS device on,” he said. “Unbelievable.”
The 49-year-old owner of North Grand Auto Parts and sponsor of area turbo stox drivers Cheryl Hryn and Eddie Wolf is living the dream these days, hoping to find enough sponsorship for himself so he can gradually work his way up from ARCA to the Nationwide series and eventually to the Sprint Cup series.
His dream had a nightmarish start.
Affarano, who just missed by a few ticks making the field for the ARCA event at Daytona in February, didn’t have a chance to qualify at Talladega because of weather conditions. The race was lined up by points, so he started in the back of the field.
He was running 29th with 20 laps remaining when, roaring out of Turn 4, he was contacted from behind by Zach Ralston.
“The guy just never braked,” Affarano said. “You get into the draft they suck you up real fast. He never braked, he just rear-ended me, lifted me off the ground and turned me. From there I was just along for the ride.”
While upside down, the front end of Affarano’s 83 gently kissed the wall, then began to violently turn over time after time as it skated down the front straightaway. After 6½ flips, it came to rest a smouldering wreck, driver’s side down. A tire had been ripped away, the engine torn loose from its moorings.
Inside was Affarano. Remarkably, he was fine.
“I was fine through the whole thing,” Affarano said. “When (rescue workers) came to the window they went, ‘Living in there? OK?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. Get this car on its wheels. Get me out of here!’ When I got my feet back down on the ground I was like, ‘OK. Nothing hurts.’ ”
Affarano walked to the ambulance under his own power.
Thank you, HANS device.
“They couldn’t believe it,” he said. “They told me I’d be sore the next day, but to be honest, I wasn’t.”
If anybody was sore, it was Affarano’s wife, Sandra.
The two spent part of the weekend looking at pictures of the wreck.
Two people couldn’t have had more different reactions.
“In some of them the car is standing end on end,” he said. “Then there’s a shot where the car is totally upside down, flying through the air. I was like, ‘Man, that is freakin’ cool!’ ”
Sandra didn’t quite agree.
“She got mad,” Affarano said. “She said, ‘You think this is funny? You could have been killed.’ I was like, ‘I could have, but I’m still here to talk about it, right?’ It’s what we do. We race, we wreck and we get out and say, ‘Well, there’s another one under our belt.’ ”
And the dream lives on.
Affarano plans to make his next ARCA attempt July 2 at Chicagoland Speedway. Friday, the Affaranos will be at Grundy County Speedway.
“Through all my years of racing my wife hadn’t been to a race track,” Affarano said. “Last year I put her in a car at Sycamore Speedway, and she’ll make her first start Friday in a street stock at Grundy.”
A different breed, to be sure.