Coming back from more than a two-month hiatus to compete at Darlington Raceway is challenging enough.
For Brett Moffitt, that size of that hurdle dramatically increased after the 27-year-old driver broke both legs in a dirt-bike accident back in March.
Although Moffitt claims points as a full-time NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series driver, he will compete in his fifth race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season in the tour’s return to racing on Thursday (Noon ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). He’ll tackle the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval driving the No. 02 Chevrolet owned by Chris Our.
If there’s anything that will toughen you up even more than what it takes to wheel a 3,400-pound stock car around, it’s the recovery process after surgery that left him in the hospital for three days with metal rods inserted to heal both fractured femurs.
“It’s been super-challenging to be honest with you,” Moffitt told NASCAR.com. “It was a lot of pain at first, but still struggling to do a few things. Fortunately for me, we were able to push hard enough during those first six or seven weeks after the incident that the doctors felt good about clearing me to race, and I completed everything I needed to be able to race.”
The rigorous process of getting back to competitive form hasn’t been an easy road with three sessions of physical therapy a week. Moffitt’s surgeon warned him that he could bear weight right away, but it was going to “hurt like heck.”
To add to the difficulty, it was Moffitt’s first time going under the knife, despite breaking his pelvis in his younger years where he was able to recover more naturally with assistance of only crutches.
“I have all the tools to be a senior citizen now one day,” Moffitt joked. “A walker, a bathroom thing, a shower stool … basically everything you need just because my legs couldn’t take standing for a long period of time. … It’s crazy how much it’s changed my day-to-day life, even things like mowing the yard or weed-eating is a little bit of a pain right now, but I’m able to do it.
“The recovery has been painful,” he added. “I guess it kind of goes from being able to get the functionality of your legs back and getting everything working right to now where it’s pretty much like a workout when I go to physical therapy. … That’s been the hard part, just managing the pain, but we’re getting to the good part of it now and I feel good about it.”
But the process has been quicker than what you would think, thanks to the intense therapy with help from OrthoCarolina and trainer and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Josh Wise.
“Each time you just try and push further and further,” Moffitt said. “I remember the first day I went, they put me on a recumbent bike and I couldn’t even flex my legs enough to do a full rotation of the pedals without extreme pain. It’s crazy how fast their program develops you and helps you recover because the next week I was able to ride it fairly normally with very little pain.”
Before the injuries, Moffitt was running 30-40 miles per week. But since he hasn’t been able to perform the necessary cardiovascular training at that level, Moffitt has methodically been able to get back to racing form with the help of running countless laps at GoPro Motorplex, a local go-karting track located in Mooresville, North Carolina. There, the likes of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Matt Kenseth, Michael McDowell and others have spent time during the COVID-19 stoppage to stay in prime condition.
“It’s an insane workout running those karts at GoPro Motorplex,” Moffitt said. “I think conditioning-wise, I’m not in the best shape of my life or as good as I was prior to this because I guess I was at the best running shape in my life before this. I’m not back to that yet, but I am very confident in my conditioning for getting back in the race car and being able to last the races.”
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Though it might not seem like go-karts would get a stock-car driver into proper competitive shape, the weight-to-speed ratio has a direct correlation to what Moffitt would feel in his No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
“I’d say it compares to Bristol because that place is so physically demanding. … They get up to about 73 miles per hour and you’re an inch off the ground and the amount of grip they have is just insane. Obviously no power steering so being able to turn the wheel at the end of a 10- to 15-minute run is just super hard. Your forearms are blown and it’s so hard to hang on and your core is getting so much work cornering in those things.”
Admittedly, Moffitt said he underestimated the endurance factor of running laps on the 0.7-mile, 11-turn course. The first time he tried his hand at it, he was barely able to last one 10-minute run. Now, he can manage 30-minute runs at a time.
“It really teaches you how to pace yourself endurance wise – how to pace where you can run fast laps consistently throughout the whole session,” Moffitt said. “If you try to run too fast at the beginning, you’re going to fall out of the seat by the end of it. It’s a good comparison to the real thing.”
There’s where you find the comparison to Darlington – where a driver has to respect the race track and wait to push the limits until the time is right.
Thankfully for him, Moffitt will be able to get 200 miles under his belt before it’s time for points racing for the Gander Trucks on May 26 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – a track where Moffitt feels is the toughest intermediate track NASCAR visits each year.
“It’s huge for me. … I feel like for being a small team, we’ve really had some pretty good runs,” Moffitt said. “I was pushing really hard to get back in it, obviously for that reason personally just to get a race under my belt before we go Truck racing at Charlotte. So, I’m very thankful for them to get this opportunity and be able to get back and get behind the wheel. Really just make sure everything’s OK, which I’m very positive it will be, but just having that peace of mind when we go back Truck racing that I’ve already done it.”
The 2018 Gander Trucks champion didn’t get the start to the 2020 season he had anticipated, finishing 13th and 16th in the first two races at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, respectively. Moffitt says he feels like he and the team collectively missed on finding the right setups, but the past two months have given them time to take a step back and figure out what it will take to restart the season stronger.
“With this new tire that Goodyear and NASCAR brought this year, we felt like that’s where we went down the wrong path,” Moffitt said. “I wish we could have run Atlanta and it sucks kind of sitting on our hands for two months not really having the answers, but we feel like we have a lot better package heading into Charlotte and we feel like we’re a lot more prepared.”