There’s no time like the present to pay attention to one’s body. Even racers have to listen to the aches and pains that may seem trivial at first but have a way of catching up with all of us.
That’s something two-time NHRA FuelTech Pro Mod champion Stevie “Fast” Jackson has learned, after the rigors of racing finally caught up with him this year. Jackson, 42, underwent surgery on Monday, December 19th to repair neck damage resulting from multiple high-speed crashes over the years. The injuries date back to 2008, he said.
“They went in there and reconstructed my spine,” Jackson said from his home in Evans, GA four days after the surgery. “A portion of the discs had moved into the spinal column and compressed the spinal cord. They went in there, took the discs out, grafted some bone, removed some bone, fused some bone, put in a titanium cage and screwed me together,” he related.
Doctors have said he could be sidelined for as many as six months while healing from this surgery, but Jackson, never one to sit still, has already been up and around since the procedure. He’s discovered he’s not Superman. “Four days removed right now… right now it feels like I’ve been in a fight with Macho Man Randy Savage,” he quipped.
For the past decade, Jackson has been ignoring the clues his body kept telling him, but has come to the realization his on-track crashes have given the driver more lasting injuries than he wanted to admit. It was this year, at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, during the 2022 NHRA Lucas Oil Nationals, that he could no longer ignore his symptoms.
“When I got into the race car in Brainerd this year, I pulled my helmet on – just like I had done a thousand times before,” Jackson related. “It sent a sharp pain all the way through the heel of my other foot, and my left hand went numb. I haven’t had feeling in my left hand since July of this year. I knew that I needed to get it looked at.”
Still, he tried to avoid going under the knife. Jackson did make his way to doctor’s appointments, he did some physical therapy, but nothing seemed to fix his problems. There was no other alternative but surgery to repair the damage and allow the man whose name is “Fast” to continue to ply his trade.
“I started having a decline in motor skills, and reflexes on the right side of my body, to where, when you check your reflexes with the little hammer, and your left leg jumps far, but your right leg barely moves, that’s kind of a bad deal,” he related.
He met with squads of doctors, from orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, neurologists. They convinced him that now was the time to get healthy again. “I was going to try to put it off another season, but it ended up being a need-to-get-it-fixed-right-now deal.”
Over the years, Jackson had developed pain management rituals – even after his 2018 crash during the finals of NHRA’s Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte revealed he’d aggravated his pre-existing issues. “When I wrecked in 2018 at Charlotte, they did a CAT scan and MRI on my neck and showed me an area where the disc had exploded and was compressing the spinal cord. I thought I would have to have it done at this point, but through physical therapy, exercise and working out, I was able to get it to a manageable level.”
Not being able to do all those things that used to keep his increasing pain at bay – in addition to working on his racecar and competing in NHRA’s FuelTech Pro Mod Drag Racing Series – will be a challenging issue for Jackson. “It’s killing me, man,” Jackson admitted. “Everybody’s planning, going to run at the US Street Nationals, the invitational World Series of Pro Mod, and all these other races coming up, and I don’t know when I”ll be back in the car,” he said.
“I spoke to Scotty Cannon about this. He didn’t have this surgery, but it was a similar type of surgery for a different part of his back. He told me the mistake he made was jumping in the car too fast. Everybody I’ve talked to has told me to wait. So while it’s hard, I’m going to wait until they clear me. I do not want to have to do this again!
“The doctors gave me a 90 percent chance of full recovery,” Jackson stated. “That’s really good – as long as I follow the steps they want me to do. I’d much rather be out of it for a (little) while and then get to come back and be as good as I was, rather than to rush back into it and have to do this again.”
The NHRA FuelTech Pro Mod Drag Racing Series gets underway for its 10-race 2023 season during the 54th annual Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville next March. Stevie “Fast” Jackson might be on the grounds, but he’ll be watching, not racing.
Good luck Stevie and do what the doctors tell you. You’re our home town hero and we’ll be seeing you before too long.