When Bobby Varin straps into Jake Spraker’s modified for opening night at Fonda Speedway Saturday, he should say a little prayer.
He’s darn lucky he can even climb into a car. Not to sound morbid, but Varin is lucky he’s not paralyzed, or dead.
The six-time Fonda Speedway champion, who will be returing to the Track of Champions on a full-time basis after leaving in July 2012 because of a dispute with former promoter Ric Lucia, broke the C6 and C7 vertebrae in his neck in a skiing accident in January, and still isn’t at 100 percent, following over two months of painkillers, therapy and rehabilitation.
“The doctors told me it would be two years before I have a complete recovery,” said Varin on Wednesday. “The C6 and C7 vertebrae aren’t the real problem. I had a torn rotator cuff, pulled muscles in both shoulders, a lot of soft tissue damage that’s still healing.”
But the injuries won’t keep Varin away from racing.
Varin was vacationing in New Hampshire with his family in January, intent on enjoying a week of skiing.
What began as a nice, friendly week on the slopes turned competitive between Varin and his son, Danny, who is also an accomplished racer with his own share of testosterone.
“The first day was no problem,” said Bobby Varin. “Danny was on a showboard, and I was on skis, and I was blowing his doors off. The next day, when he got on skis, was when I ran into trouble.”
Varin estimates that he was traveling 60 to 65 miles per hour when he lost a ski and began tumbling down the slope.
“I was sliding forever,” said Varin. “I had a very dangerous situation there. I probably should have been dead, or at the least, my spinal cord could have been severed.
“Usually, when you have a break at the bottom of the C6 and the top of the C7, it severs the spinal cord. It just nicked mine.
“I still have nerve problems. I have no feeling in two of my fingers, and there’s no feeling in my right shoulder.”
Varin said he was unconscious for a while when his spinal cord was pinched off. But after taking some time to recover from his fall, he skied back to the lodge.
“At the time, I didn’t know how badly I had been hurt,” he said. “I thought I just had the wind knocked out of me, and was a little sore.
“The next day, I could barely move. But I toughed it out for four more days because I didn’t want to spoil the vacation.”
When he returned home and went to see a doctor, X-rays discovered the broken neck, and he was put into a hard collar to immobolize the fractures.
But as they say, everything worked out.
“It was a wake-up call, but I was never really scared,” Varin said. “I believe that if it’s your time, you’re going to go. My biggest fear, if there was a fear as I thought back on it, was that I could have wound up in a hospital bed, not being able to move.”
The broken neck is Varin’s second major setback in two years. In August 2012, he suffered a fracture of the fibular condyle, a torn patellar tendon and a torn meniscus when he took a wild ride in a sprint car.
He’s looking forward to his return to Fonda, and renewing his partnership with Spraker.
“I don’t know what the future’s going to hold, but I hope it works out,” said Varin. “I think it will benefit both parties. But I know from experience that Jake wants results.”
Varin will also be racing at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park on Sundays this season, back behind the wheel of the Erik Nelson 85, which Varin drove to the track championship last year.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher at the Ridge this year,” he said. “The quality of competition is up about twice from what it was last year.”
Around the tracks
A number of area drivers went to Orange County Speedway in Middletown last Sunday for that track’s opener. Andy Bachetti, a fan favorite at Lebanon Valley, went flag-to-flag in the Hard Clay Open for modifieds, and earned a total of $5,637.
In the sportsman feature, Connor Cleveland was second and Rocky Warner was third.
Matt DeLorenzo makes his promoting debut at Fonda Speedway Saturday. All divisions will be in action, as point races will begin. Racing starts at 7 p.m.
Lebanon Valley will be kicking off its 62nd season of racing Saturday night, with the modifieds running for $3,000 to win.
This season marks the 40th year of racing for 10-time Lebanon Valley track champion Brett Hearn. He heads to the Valley with 838 career victories.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway will be holding practice for all divisions on Sunday. Gates open at noon, and cars will be on the track from roughly 3-7 p.m. Grandstand admission is free.