Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Riverview's Ehrgott races at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH — A horrific 2009 injury nearly ended Ricky Ehrgott's dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, but today the Jesuit High graduate will compete at Daytona in the midst of a miraculous comeback.

The former sprint car driver will race the No. 16 Coulter Motorsports Chevy in today's ARCA opener, the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona International Speedway.

In Friday's qualifying, Ehrgott was seventh-fastest among 40, and was the fastest rookie.

"It's hard to describe actually," said Ehrgott, who grew up in Riverview. "You try and explain to people how it feels. You've got that nervous anxiety before the race, and you're not sure what's going to happen. It's kind of dual feeling, I guess. I'm excited, but I'm also at the same time very anxious and focused on my job in the car when I get in there."

Now 25, he began his racing career as part of the Ford Focus Midget Series, then progressed through the ranks. But a 2009 accident in qualifying at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway in a dirt midget changed everything.

Ehrgott hit a rut that sent his car flipping about 30 feet in the air. He was knocked unconscious, and awoke 45 minutes later at a hospital surrounded by medical personnel and unable to name the president. He later learned he had an artery that was torn 70 percent from the base of his neck to the top of his skull.

"I've been in the racing industry 40 years, and I've dealt with many drivers and seen drivers that recovered from injuries in different stages, but no one that ever had an injury as life-threatening or serious as Ricky's was," said Larry Curry, his manager, whose former drivers include NASCAR star Tony Stewart.

It got worse. Three months later, Ehrgott developed an aneurysm. He was 21.

"I didn't know what to think," Ehrgott said. "I think I was so young, and I think when you're that young, you kind of feel like you're invincible. I didn't realize the severity of it until after it was all done, healed up, and I sat down and really thought about it. Then I was like 'Wow, that was really close.' "

Ehrgott had surgery in which doctors removed a vein from his leg and put it in his neck. Because the aneurysm was at the base of his skull, doctors had to dislocate Ehrgott's jaw and remove nerves from his face.

"I couldn't move my cheek or anything like that," he said. "That's been the hardest part of the recovery, the nerves growing back. It's really, really painful, shooting pain through my face because of the nerves that are growing back in my face. I'm still in recovery. My face is a lot better, a lot of the nerves have grown back. It's still a little soft on the right side, but it's much better than it was."

During his recovery period, he worked on his degree in economics from Fordham University and graduated in December. But Ehrgott's love for racing never wavered.

Fellow driver Tom Hessert encouraged Ehrgott to attend a racing school and driving contest operated by Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway owner Andy Hillenburg. A two-time ARCA 200 winner, Hillenburg's school conducted the Fast Track Blue Collar Challenge in June.

Ehrgott won among 50 drivers, and went on to make his ARCA debut Aug. 11 at the Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., where he finished 16th.

"Keep in mind, he hadn't competed in three years," Curry said.

With Curry's help, Ehrgott is trying to secure enough sponsorship to run the full 21-race ARCA schedule. He hopes this will be the beginning of great things along his long comeback road.

"I've had some influential people say, 'You've got some talent, you just need someone to help you make it,' " Ehrgott said. "I believe we're going to get this worked out."

NASCAR: Matt Kenseth triggered a five-car accident in the opening practice for tonight's nonpoints Sprint Unlimited race. Kurt Busch's No. 78 Chevrolet sustained the most damage, forcing his Furniture Row team to switch to a backup car for tonight.

NHRA: Tony Schumacher led Top Fuel qualifying and was uninjured when his parachutes failed to open at the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. He had a 3.758-second run at 328.14 mph before his car stopped in the sand trap at the end of the track. Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) also led their classes.

Antonya English can be reached at Information from Times wires was used in this report.

. fast facts

Sprint Unlimited

Fan voting closed Thursday on the format for tonight's Sprint Unlimited (formerly known as the Bud Shootout) at Daytona International Speedway. The three segments will be 30 laps, 25 laps and 20 laps. Other parts of the format will be determined today. Fans can vote at or with the NASCAR mobile app on the type of pit stop to be made after the first segment, and the number of cars to be eliminated after the second segment.

Riverview's Ehrgott races at Daytona 02/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 11:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings (15 hits, 11 runs, seven innings), so Tuesday was a reassuring rebound.

  4. At 6-8, Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov comes with, and needs, a high ceiling

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked that the 6-foot-8 defenseman could reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.

    Lightning 6-foot-8 defenseman Oleg Sosunov competes in the preseason opener. Phil Esposito jokes that Sosunov can reach the ceiling at Amalie Arena.
  5. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494