Disbelief came right on the bumper of Gus Dean’s survival instincts, even before his car fully came to rest on Daytona International Speedway’s smoky apron.
“It seems like the car was still spinning,” the Bluffton driver recalled Thursday, “and I’m thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way that just happened.’”
“That” was the eight-car wreck on Lap 3 of Saturday’s ARCA Racing Series opener, catching Dean’s No. 98 Chevrolet squarely in the whirlwind and ending his Daytona debut before friends back home in the Lowcountry could much settle in front of their TVs.
Total time racing: Less than three minutes.
Rather than lament his misfortune, though, the 21-year-old driver is thankful for the three days he spent working toward his cameo. He’s already behind the wheel again, driving Super Late Models this week just south of Daytona at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway.
“We’re still racing, so that’s a good thing,” said Dean, who has run in two 35-lap weeknight races with an eye on Saturday’s World Series of Asphalt final.
My mentality going in was that no matter what happens, I crossed the start/finish line at Daytona and took the green flag. Everything after that was a blessing. Not quite as many blessings as I would have hoped, but blessings nonetheless.”
Dean, who started 15th, had already moved into the top 10 when the incident happened near the start/finish line. Cole Powell, running on Dean’s outside, couldn’t keep control after a bump from behind by Derrick Lancaster — a violation of ARCA rules that prohibit bump-drafting anywhere but the straights.
“That was done outside the rule,” Dean said. “So my teammate Cole Powell (lost tire traction) from the bump drafting. Cole started to go sideways, and he couldn’t get it under control before getting into the side of us.”
Powell noted to reporters that his helmet visor was up during those early laps, and Lancaster “hit hard enough that it knocked it down.”
Dean’s car was pushed toward the infield, before getting turned and going back into traffic. Three other cars pinballed him before he skidded back down onto the apron.
“You go over every possible action you could have made,” Dean said. “Eventually you come to the realization that in the situation we were in, there’s nothing you could do. We were just a victim of circumstance.”
Now the question is where Dean goes from here. He had no guarantees in ARCA beyond Daytona, running on a one-race car sponsorship with Carrier Home Comfort Systems.
“I wish we could have given them more of a show,” Dean quipped, “but the wreck gave them a lot of media coverage.”
He hopes Carrier officials will be open to additional discussions after everyone returns home from Florida this weekend. Failing that, a few others have made inquiries. For now, he’ll keep running his No. 56 Chevrolet on the Super Late Model circuit.
“You’ve just got to keep your spirits high and realize how lucky and blessed you were to start with,” he said, thankful for the good wishes he’s received from friends — and strangers — both leading to the race and the days afterward.
“I never in a million years would have expected to feel that kind of support,” he said. “It makes me very proud to be from the Lowcountry.”