Massingill hopes to race after life-threatening crash
Jayme Lautigar of Superior was describing the severe burns he suffered to his leg in a shop accident this spring when the conversation turned to Jeff Massingill, another dirt track driver set back by injury.
"Jeff got a lot more than what I got," Lautigar said. "He was in really, really tough shape."
Massingill nearly died in a car accident after he fell asleep at the wheel, but the 22-year-old from Keewatin survived and is looking forward to returning to racing.
He recently had a pin removed from his foot and is working on walking again.
"I'd love to race this year, but if the doctors say I can't, then I can't," Massingill said. "I don't want to push it. I broke a lot of stuff."
Massingill works for his grandfather at Spartan Transportation bus company in Nashwauk. He was on a parts run to Duluth early the morning of May 14 when he dozed off on Highway 53 and his 2007 Chevy Cobalt hit the Pale Face River bridge just north of Cotton.
The car rolled before winding up in the median, so totaled that the left-front tire has never been found (presumably, it's in the river).
"It was basically like going from 65 mph to a dead stop," Massingill said. "That's a lot of force."
On the outside, Massingill looked fine as he only had a few cuts to his leg and bruises to his face, but on the inside, he was a mess, with about a half dozen broken bones. A CT scan at St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth revealed Massingill suffered a laceration to his liver and spleen and had severed his aorta, apparently from the seat belt.
"I don't remember it, but when the first responders came they said I was alert and my vitals were good. I even told them I could walk," Massingill said. "The doctors still haven't figured it out because my aorta was wrecked. They said the only piece that was holding on was about the thickness of Kleenex. It was a really low chance of survival, but somehow I just pulled through. You can't explain it. It's just one of those creepy deals."
Massingill had three-hour emergency heart surgery where the medical team used a process called "grafting" to put his aorta back together.
He was at St. Mary's for about a week before five days at the Miller Dwan Rehabilitation Center. He has continued rehabbing three days a week in Hibbing and uses crutches to get around. Doctors expect a complete recovery.
"They had me on so many medications and pain killers it was like eating a bag of Skittles every morning," Massingill said.
Massingill is the son of 25-year-race veteran John Massingill. The younger Massingill started racing snowmobiles when he was 4 and was racing cars before he had a driver's license.
He was in a Late Model at 17 and has finished as high as fifth in the season points standings in the local circuit's top class.
"I've been at the race track since I was born, so I miss it big time," Jeff Massingill said. "I'm friends with all the drivers, and it's tough just sitting there watching. It's such a huge part of my life, but I have to get clearance to work first before I hop in a race car."
The area racing community spans from Grand Rapids to Ashland but in reality is relatively small.
Many drivers and fans attend races in the Twin Ports and on the Iron Range. The Lautigars and Massingills are good examples of that, having parked next to each other in the Hibbing Raceway pits for years.
The day after Massingill's car wreck, Brandi Lautigar, Jayme's wife, went to see Massingill at St. Mary's Medical Center. Little could she have known her husband would be there the very next day.
"Pretty crazy," Massingill said.
And pretty fortunate things were not worse. Massingill was asked what he learned from the incident.
"Sleep more," Lautigar said. "You hear people say, 'I almost fell asleep last night while driving,' and they laugh about it, but it is something you have to take serious. I know before my accident I had a window open and some music on, just trying to stay awake.
"The best advice I can give is that if you're drowsy like that, just pull over and take a nap or something because it's definitely not worth it. Let me tell you. I know what it's like. I'm very lucky to be alive right now."