Stuart Mauney’s Day at the Races

Some years ago, on a hot August Friday night, “Bobby Joe” got a little too close to the action in the pit area of the local dragway.  A pickup truck, pulling a trailer loaded with a race car, ran over his foot, allegedly causing grievous injury.  It was so bad that, two days later, he decided he needed to be seen by a doctor about the bruise on the side of his foot.  Can you say “vexatious lawsuit’?  Yes, Bobby Joe sued both the truck driver and my client, the owner of the dragway.  No warnings!  No barriers to keep pedestrians away from the dangerous pit area!  No bold, yellow signs to tell spectators that it is not a good idea to absentmindedly walk near the burnout strip!  Did I mention this was my second case representing a dragway?

With this as background, I was excited when a friend invited me to attend the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina, last month.  It’s the only four-lane concrete dragstrip in the world, where every ticket is a pit pass.  I took a stroll through the pit area, funnel cake with powdered sugar in one hand and a fried turkey leg in the other.  I took in all the sights, sounds, and smells of NHRA drag racing.  The “sights” included Top Fuel dragsters and Pro Stock race cars.  The “sounds” included high speed devices used to fix parts on the dragsters and the chatter of crew members as they made the necessary adjustments.  The “smells”?  Gas!  Exhaust!  Burned rubber!  I even got to meet Leah Pruett, who was competing in the Pro Mod series for R2B2 Racing out of Duluth, Georgia.

With our VIP credentials, we wandered over to the starting line for a closer look.  As we did so, a truck pulling one of the dragsters came perilously close to running over my foot, almost causing grievous injury.  The nascent plaintiff’s lawyer in me began to think “What if . . . ?”  Would I have a claim against NHRA for my injuries?  Would my claim be barred by my own negligence in attempting to balance a funnel cake in one hand and a turkey leg in the other?  Had I assumed the risk of injury by getting too close to the staging area?

As these thoughts went through my head, my defense attorney instincts returned.  I quickly read the reverse side of my ticket to find a “Notice and Warning to Credential Holder.”

By buying or using this credential you agree that:

YOU ASSUME ALL RISKS AND DANGER of property damage, personal injury, death, and all other hazards related in any way to attending this event, anywhere at the facility and at all times before, during or after the races.  Dangers include flying objects, vehicles, other people, conditions at the facility, and unforeseen hazards.  You agree that NHRA, track owners and operators, racing participants, and each of their respective officers, owners, officials, sponsors, contractors, employees and agents shall not be liable for any loss, damage, or injury to you and you hereby release them from all claims for liability.  Be alert for hazards at all times.

Flying objects?  Does that include the kernel of kettle corn which grazed my cornea after it flew out of the hands of the 10-year-old kid standing in line next to me at the lemonade stand?  Other people?  Are the terms “other people” and “flying objects” mutually exclusive?  Could flying objects include other people?  Does other people include the no-shirt, beer-bellied fellow with the “Mama” tattoo who bumped into me as we were shopping in the NHRA merchandise trailer?  Does “unforeseen hazards” include hearing loss from the use of defective earplugs?  So many questions and so few answers.

Despite all the risks, dangers and hazards of NHRA Racing, we had fun and would do it again.  A “shout-out” to Dave Lee (President), Roger Burgess (Founder/Chairman of the Board), and all the other folks at ProCare Rx, who sponsor the R2B2 Racing Team, for a great experience.

See y’all at the races!

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