Comeback racer confronts crash demons

AVALON Raceway still holds the occasional mental demon for Cobden super rod driver Jason Grayland.

It’s the only track in Victoria where he couldn’t care less about the result. Getting back to the pits in one piece is as good as a win.

He didn’t always have that attitude. Avalon, like any other track, was a place to indulge in his passion of oval track racing.

But when one centimetre is all that separates you from paralysis, things quickly get put into perspective.

The moment for Grayland, 45, came on Good Friday, 2011. A crash left him in Geelong Hospital with two fractured vertebrae in his back.

He was attempting to pass Corey Deglaitis in the final, a regulation pass he’d made many times in his career.

This time was different. He clipped Deglaitis’ outside wheel and rolled multiple times. A stub axle and wheel flew over the safety fence.

An extensive rehabilitation period followed, although Grayland was back in a super rod after seven months and raced occasionally last season.

Now, two-and-a-half years after that fateful night, he’s contesting a full season for the first time — and turning heads with his results.

Grayland won the season opener at Darlington on November 16, ran fourth at Avalon a fortnight ago and again won at Darlington last Saturday.

“To even be able to hop back in the car is a fair effort. To be running competitively … to be up that end of the stick this year has been unreal,” he said.

His next assignments are on January 4 and 5, at Avalon and Warrnambool. A top-three finish in the aggregate is firmly on his radar.

“I’m still undecided if I’ll run at Avalon.  It still unsettles me a little bit. If I get home I’m happy,” he told The Standard.

“A few people have said ‘I thought you’d be able to get it out of your head’. I said ‘if I was 18 or 20 I would’ve been able to’.

“But as you get older, things stay there and s--- it hurt. I’m more than happy to take a finish at Avalon.

“The penny might drop one day. I can’t see it happening but you never know.”

Grayland, a father to 17-year-old Selina, admits he emerges from most shows in pain and it can often take all of the next day to move freely again.

His return to racing has had its moments — an engine fire at Simpson last year forced him to get out of the car “at a rapid rate of knots”.

But for the most part it’s been positive. Strangely enough, the crash has prolonged his career.

Grayland was set to retire after the 2010-11 season but instead opted to make a comeback, a way of acknowledging the support of his rival drivers.

“My daughter may well be in the car at the end of the season at Swan Hill. Unless there’s an aggregate to win,” he said.

So how has Grayland become such a force on the track with the memories of his crash so fresh?

He was competitive last season but struggled to settle in the car. His crew spent much of the season modifying the set-up.

Further changes happened during the winter, which Grayland believes have finally given him a machine that can compete at the front. “I’ve moved the motor and redesigned where the shocks mount on the car, put in a different style of axle beam,” he said.

“We’ve changed the car considerably, mainly for performance reasons. I was going to build a brand new car for this year.

“But I didn’t want to incorporate all these changes into a new car and find out it didn’t work.

“I thought I’d incorporate them into the old car and if it worked, we’d build a new car next year.”

The results have justified his gamble. The only setback to date has been an inability to get the motor to run hot enough.

Grayland drove conservatively at Darlington last weekend before the problem solved itself the longer the night went on.

“In the final, with four laps to go, the temperature had come right up and I thought I’d give it all it had,” he said. “In four laps we opened up a lead nearly the length of the main straight. The car was in control all the time. I could place it wherever I wanted to.”

Ominously, he says, “there’s a lot more left in it”. But he is aware chasing wins every meeting could undermine the ultimate goal.

“At the end of the day, what wins aggregates is consistency,” he said.

“You don’t necessarily have to win every race. You have to be there in the top five.

“I’d sooner finish than have a wrecked car sitting on the infield.”

Experience has taught him well.

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