COUER D'ALENE, Idaho - If you've been watching the SCCA Pro Racing SIRIUS Satellite Radio Mazda MX-5 Cup races on SPEED this month, you may have noticed the absence of Brett Smrz after Round Two. As reported earlier this season, Smrz was hospitalized and had a portion of his left leg amputated after a trampoline accident. Since then, Smrz has made a remarkable recovery and is already back in the driver's seat. Brett tries on his new leg.
We asked Brett to update us about his recovery and future racing plans.
Can you explain what type of leg break you had and why it was so serious?
"I had a tibia plateau fracture. The break was diagonally across the top of my tibia right under the knee, and ended up severing my nerve and my artery. I also got compartment syndrome, which cut off the circulation in my leg, which caused the amputation."
How many surgeries did you go through? Are you done?
"I went through nine surgeries at first. I went through the healing process, and physical therapy, but when I went to go see Dr. Meng, my prosthetic doctor, he said my leg wasn't suitable for a prosthetic as is.
"After this we searched for a good doctor in Seattle by the name of, Dr. Smith. He took a cat scan of my leg and let us know that my fibula was dislocated and my meniscus was still destroyed. Two days later I had my 10th surgery overall. As of right now, I don't think I will need any more surgeries on my leg."
What type of prosthesis do you have?
"The prosthesis that I have isn't necessarily a brand, but it is originated out of Hanger Prosthetics. It is made of carbon fiber and the bottom piece is I think titanium, but it looks like chrome. The foot, however, is called the Renegade, and that is from Freedom Innovations. The different feet make a big deal on how I walk. The Renegade is a spring loaded foot, so when I walk, it flexes and makes walking smoother."
When was your first race back?
"My first race with my prosthetic leg was at a San Francisco Regional Series race at Laguna Seca in a Formula Ford 1600. It was a triple header race, meaning there were three races that weekend. I ended up getting all three poles and all three wins to sweep the weekend in my debut back after my accident.
"It was the greatest feeling in the world. We weren't expecting to do that good right away, as we thought we might have some problems with me not feeling the clutch, or my foot slipping off."
Do you need any special equipment in the car?
"Actually yes, I do, but it is very minor. I can press the clutch pedal down in the car with no problems, but I have problems with it slipping off in the middle of the corner. We are in the process of making a bracket to wrap around the clutch pedal so that my foot stays on the pedal."
What other races have you competed in since the surgery?
"Other than the triple header at Laguna Seca, I have done another race in the Formula Ford 1600's against the Champion from last year, and I took the victory. I have also done a four hour endurance race at Laguna Seca in a Spec Miata, and the 25 Hour of Thunderhill in a Mazda RX-7."
"I have also done a couple of kart races. I ran in the Robo Pong 200 race at New Castle, IN, which is a four-hour endurance race sponsored by Mazda. The SKUSA Super Nationals was another go kart race in Las Vegas that I competed in after my accident."
What sort of adjustments, if any, have you had to make in your driving style?
"I have had to make one adjustment in my driving style to suit the leg, and that is to straight leg the pedal now. The ankle of the leg doesn't rotate, or move, so to compensate for that I have to straight leg the pedal. Instead of feeling the pressure through my foot I feel it through my knee now, which isn't a big deal. We will have to make an adjustment in the car which will bring the clutch pedal closer to me now, because by not being able to push the ankle down I have lost about six inches of length."
What's the hardest thing to get used to?
"Definitely the hardest thing to get used to is walking. It is just like having to relearn how to walk all over again. This gets frustrating at times, but I should be happy because my physical therapist and my prosthetic doctor have both said I was up and walking faster then they have ever seen before."
How did you keep such a positive attitude?
"This is a really easy question to answer. My parents bought me a book called Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory, which caused me to have a new racing hero. When my leg was amputated, all I could think about was getting back into the race car. I knew I could do it, because if Alex Zanardi could do it with both legs gone, why couldn't I? Most of my confidence and positive attitude has a lot to do with Alex Zanardi."
Speaking of which, I heard you got a phone call from Alex Zanardi? What did he tell you?
"Yes I did get a phone call from Alex in the hospital! My dad came up to me and handed me the phone and said, "It's Alex Zanardi." I just looked up at him and gave him the look like 'ya right'. When I answered, sure enough it was Alex! We talked for about half an hour. The main thing he wanted to tell me was to never give up on my dreams, and to always keep a positive attitude."