Courtesy of the Texarkana Gazette. Originally published on 1/15/2009. Story by Marie Martin. Edited/Condensed by John Webb
The thrill of drag racing was life for Adger Smith. But it was a faulty steering joint that put his life’s pursuits on a much higher terrain.
“After I died in the accident and came back, there were a lot of changes in my life,” Smith said.
The performance engine shop owner and stock-car racer was on his way to winning the International Hot Rod Association’s top spot in 1999 when his C roadster broke a steering joint, smashing the car to pieces.
“After that point I realized that family, friends, community are important. There’s a lot more to life than just me,” he said.
The IHRA is the second-largest stock car racing association in the country. Each year, racers nationwide flock to drag strips all over the United States to earn points in hopes of becoming the national champion in various car categories.
On Sept. 5, 1999, Smith was well on his way to becoming the national champion. He ranked eighth in points in the Modified Eliminator category when he climbed into his V-6 665 horsepowered roadster at the Cordova Dragway Park in Illinois. The day ended in disaster.
The fury of the accident destroyed his car and his body, leaving him with a broken back, shattered face, elbow and legs and ruptured kidneys and liver.
“I was aware of the dying process and the fire suit has pockets in it. One of the things I realized is I didn’t have my hand in my pocket to see how much money I was taking with me,” Smith said, recalling where his focus had been until that moment.
But when he faced death, all the accolades, the titles and the cars became dim in the light of a greater call.
“I went around with my hand out to the world. What can the world do for me?” he said. “When you get close to God and realize why you’re here, your life will change,” Smith said of his mindset after two clinically dead episodes occurring between the Cordova raceway and a helicopter flight to the University of Iowa hospital.
The aftermath of the crash sent Smith back to a time when his grandmother took him to Highland Park Baptist Church in Texarkana, Texas. In the late 1960s, he dedicated his life to Christ during a Billy Graham video crusade. However, the next 30 years of his life centered around another love—his “redheaded mistress” as friends called his engine shop and racing fetish.
“Now I have the attitude that I’ll take what the world gives me, but I am going to give back some,” Smith said as his longtime friend and fellow race junkie Ronnie Steward listened. “I’m a lot different, aren’t I, Ronnie?”
Steward answered, “Yes, he’s a lot different and not near as materialistic as he used to be. Used to you’d scratch his car and he’d get upset. Now he says, ‘Oh, that’s just a scratch’ and laughs it off.”
The accident changed his relationships, too.
“At the time of my accident, my wife was my girlfriend. One of the things the doctors told her was when I come out of the coma and the seven major operations and head injuries that I may be different,” he said of his wife, Donna. “She was worried to death that I wasn’t going to be the same guy. She said after awhile she realized I wasn’t the same guy. I was a better guy.”
Smith is a member of Trinity Baptist Church, a member of the Texarkana, Ark., Planning and Zoning Commission and the Texarkana, Ark., School Board.
Smith said the accident and his renewed commitment to Jesus Christ gave him a new pursuit and a new purpose.
“It put a total change in my life,” he said.