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NMRA Champion Haley James Plotting Return After Season-Ending Crash

Over the years, Drag Illustrated has watched many young stars come up in the drag racing world with huge success. One of the brightest stars of the street-legal drag racing world is Haley James. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because she’s extremely successful and graced the cover of DI in April of 2016. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, racer flies under the Hellion Turbo flag as the “B Team”.

James and her team, led by her father, and accomplished racer, Dwayne James, have shown their dominance in the NMRA Coyote Modified and Renegade classes. At the 2019 season finale at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, James sealed up her third championship with the Mustang-based organization. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only noteworthy point of the weekend. During qualifying, James was making a pass in the left lane when the car got out of shape at about the 330-foot mark. After a great attempt at saving the car, the backend came around and James made hard contact with the right side wall. While she got out of the car under her own power and did not suffer any serious injuries, the car did not fair as well.

We caught up with James and chatted about the crash, her conditions, and the B-Team’s plan to move forward.

The crash at Bowling Green looked pretty rough. How are you feeling?

Physically, I’m good. I still have a few bruises and bumps and my back isn’t very happy, but mentally, I’m more grateful for my life in general than ever, yet still mourning the car, and also very excited about our next chapter.

How bad is the car?

The car is certainly damaged. The impact broke the wheel off the driver’s side rear, completely busted a control arm, and obviously destroyed the driver’s side cosmetically, but the way I wrecked saved the drivetrain and the most valuable things on the car. It seems that the frame isn’t bent and the roll cage is still top notch, but we haven’t gotten it measured yet. From everyone that has looked at it, it’s apparently fixable. Anything is fixable if you put enough time into it, though, so we spent the next few days after the wreck debating on whether or not that was worth the effort. In conclusion, we’re not very good at quitting, so yes, she will get fixed eventually.

There was a lot of speculation as to what happen on the Internet. What actually caused the crash?

From my perspective, being young and the daughter of a longtime badass drag racer who knows the ins and outs of this sport, there is a lot of speculation on the Internet and amongst our naysayers, about pretty much every move we’ve made since the beginning of time. So the speculation about what caused the wreck didn’t really come as a surprise to us. It’s an unfortunate side effect of anyone feeling confident in saying whatever he or she wants behind the disguise of a keyboard.

Everyone in the world is entitled to his or her opinion, but what caused the wreck was a stuck throttle cable. It was our second test pass of the day and it was pretty hot out. The car left the starting line and around 60mph the power kicked in and the tires lost traction. I lifted – as I have any other pass that required it – yet the car only lifted 20% off the throttle due to it hanging up on an O-ring that rattled out, probably in the burnout.

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Knowing at this point, “I am wrecking”, the mantra my dad has always taught me of “it’s not if, it’s when” repeated in my head. The car starting fishtailing, trying my best to keep it straight while reaching for the ignition switch, to no avail, I finally had to surrender to the inevitable crash that was about to ensue. The car spun around, I remember looking in the side mirror and seeing Bart still on the starting line, still steering hard at this point, I see the wall coming up quick to my left so I let go of the wheel, tucked my arms into my chest and braced for impact.

The whole crash was only 1.5 seconds long, but to me it felt like 10. I remember every millisecond, frame by frame, like it happened in slow motion. The wreck genuinely made me more confident about my driving ability and answered questions I’ve always had. Since day one, I’ve wondered how I was going to handle that situation, and contrary to what some others think, I did a damn good job.

Those who can’t see what happened in the video probably can’t read data logs either, so here’s a short explanation of what you’re seeing here. The throttle position is in green, the engine RPM in red, and the driveshaft RPM in blue. You can see that half way through the log, the throttle position is at 100% until the tires blew off, depicted by the hump in the blue line. You can see at this point that I took my foot off the throttle and you can see the MSD ARC catch it by the flat line on the engine RPM (red) and then releases as per program parameters. You can also see that the throttle stuck at 78%, as seen by the number directly to the right of “EFI TPS”, sending me on the ride to the wall, cutting the log off due to the impact shutting off the car’s power.

Obviously, when stuff like this happens you’re forced to change the direction of your race program. What are the plans for the B Team now?

B-Team has always thrived in stressful situations, and this is certainly a stressful situation. We’ve already got another car in the shop, because my dad is completely insane in the best of ways, and we’re hoping to have her done before the end of the racing season to go make some passes before next year. If there’s anyone that can get a new car together in a crunch, it’s us, and the amazing people and companies that have the same vision we do.

Was a new car something you guys were thinking about prior to Bowling Green?

No, not even a little bit. That Foxbody was/is our baby. We’ve put so much blood, sweat, and tears into that thing with the intention of continual success and progressive speeds into higher classes, etc. The car is built for that, and treated us great for six years, up until the last moment when she kept me safe during that hard hit. 

How is the new car going to differ from the outgoing car?

The new car is going to be the same combo, and class. What will be different is the safety precautions we’re going to take. The last car was very safe, overkill to some people, yet still could’ve hurt me in a catastrophic way if I had hit the wall at any other angle. We will be upgrading all safety equipment, from the gear on my body to the seat in the car, to a larger, more strategically placed shut-off switch and fire handle, and the car is also safer than the last one chassis wise.

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Coming off another extremely strong season, is there extra pressure going into the offseason knowing you’ve almost starting from scratch?

Yes, but like I said, we thrive under pressure when the stakes are high and our passion and willpower is put to the test. 

What can we look for in the future from Haley James and the B Team?

Determination, humility, gratitude, passion, and more success with another B-Team-built car that hauls ass and turns heads. That is who we are.

This story was originally published on October 23, 2019. Drag Illustrated

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