Bobby Varin: On The Mend
The Championship Winning Driver Faced Not Only A Potential Career Ending Injury But A Life Altering One As Well
Story By: MATT NOLES Photos By: MIKE PETRUCCI and AMBER CHALMERS / RPW
SPRAKERS, NY- March 7, 2014- Eleanor Rossevelt once stated that if life were predictable, it would cease to be life and be without flavor.Less than two months ago, while on a family vacation in New Hampshire, modified racing veteran Bobby Varin found out how unpredictable life can be and, more importantly, how unpredictable the reactions of others can be as well when a skiing accident left him with a broken neck and an uncertain future concerning both his family business and his racing career.
“My parents own a time-share over at Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire,” stated Varin. “And they talked to Dan [Varin] and myself and asked if we’d like to go out for a week-long vacation.” Running a family business and racing nearly eight months out of the year doesn’t afford Varin many opportunities to relax so naturally he jumped at the opportunity.
“We were only going to ski three out of the seven days we were there,” continued Varin. “We liked skiing but we didn’t grow up doing it and it was never a regular thing that we would normally do.” With that in mind, the six-time Fonda Speedway Modified track champion eased onto the slopes gaining both comfort and confidence with every run.
In typical racing fashion, the father and son duo quickly started to raise the bar by the second day of the vacation. “He’d [Danny Varin] go over a jump and then I’d have to go over the jump,” Varin said with a smile. “You don’t start out expecting to compete with each other but when I’m going down the trail and he goes on by me with a smile on his face that just means that you have to go back by him and wipe the smile off his face.”
As the day went on and the friendly rivalry increased, so did the speed on the ski slopes. “We were really moving down the trail and came over a little knoll and got a little bit of air and my right ski popped off,” Varin said. “I was still upright and I knew at that point that I had to lay it down and I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal.” Unfortunately for Varin, it turned out to be a bigger deal than he would have ever imagined possible.
“I must have got spun around backwards and ended up crashing pretty hard into the next hill,” Varin continued. “And I don’t remember a whole lot about it. I was out of it for about 20 minutes but some of it did come back and the memories I have of it are not all that pleasant.” Though he was certainly in pain, the full scope of his injuries didn’t become apparent to Varin until the following morning.
“The next day I couldn’t get out of bed hardly so I knew I was in trouble,” recalled Varin. “We finished out the vacation, went home and then I went to the doctor.” The injury that Varin had suffered turned out to be far more than he expected. “I found out I had a broken neck.” With the news came the spirit crushing thoughts, questions and concerns that can only result from an injury of this severity. Needless to say, the future was up in the air for the Sharon Springs, New York native.
“The first thoughts that popped through my head were ‘what are we going to do now?’” Varin continued. “I have a family business to run and how are we going to make this all go and how am I going to pay my bills through the winter?” With a multitude of questions and a varying range of emotions, the overwhelming lack of answers made an already difficult situation that much worse.
“For my whole life, ever since I was 19-years-old, I had to take care of the bills myself,” Varin stated. “Here was a situation where I wasn’t going to be able to make enough money to take care of everything.” It isn’t the good times that shed light on the people in your life that you can depend on; instead, when your back is up against the wall, that’s when you truly realize who you can rely on, and subsequently, who you can’t.
“My family stepped up big time,” Varin continued. “Dan was huge throughout the whole deal. He is only 23-years-old and he ran the whole business all by himself. He plowed for 30-hours straight at one point; whatever he had to do it didn’t matter.” It wasn’t just his son that was there by any stretch of the imagination. “My parents continued to pay my paycheck as if nothing happened,” Varin said with a smile. “To be able to have a family that stands behind you and helps you out in a situation like this, it’s huge.”
It wasn’t just Varin’s family that stepped up when it was needed most, there was one other person that helped out in ways that others couldn’t. With his injury there were many day-to-day items that Bobby just couldn’t handle on his own. That’s where his girlfriend, Brenda Worden, filled a void that others weren’t able to. “Brenda taking care of me was one of the biggest factors in working through this whole situation,” Varin stated. “I owe a lot to my son, my parents and my girlfriend.”
Being a racing veteran of nearly 30-years, it didn’t take long for Varin’s thoughts and concerns to begin dwelling on the uncertainty that his future held in the sport. “I started thinking about my career the day after the wreck,” stated Varin. “I was thinking to myself boy I’m really hurting, I hope there isn’t something seriously wrong with me. I use racing as part of my income to pay my bills and without racing things get tight monetarily.”
With the situation being what it was, Varin had concerns over what his car owners were going to do. Given that fact, there wasn’t much the championship winning driver could do about it at that time. “There were some concerns but there really wasn’t anything that I could do about it,” Varin continued. “I was very accepting to be where I was but I’m very fortunate to be driving for the guys that I am driving for.” With three separate car owners, there were three potential rides to lose. Yet that wasn’t the case throughout Varin’s whole ordeal of not knowing what the future held in the early days and weeks following his injury.
“Dover Dave [Dave Cruickshank] is behind me all the way no matter what,” stated Varin. “And coming back in and driving for Jake Spraker at Fonda this year, I knew that it was important to be there the entire season.” The Jake Spraker Used Cars owned machine was a permanent fixture at the Fonda Speedway with Bobby Varin and the partnership always proved to be a potent combination at the historic Montgomery county oval. With the 2014 season right around the corner, the duo look to pick up where they left off in dominating fashion.
“I’m really hoping for some impressive results out of the 1J team this year,” Varin said with a smile. “We’re also coming back to Glen Ridge to defend our title with the Bill and Erik Nelson owned 85 machine.” With plans already set in place for the 2014 season, Varin has time to look back at the past six weeks and look forward knowing that the loyalty he has for his car owners will be reciprocated no matter what.
“I think that loyalty breeds loyalty and that my car owners know how loyal I am to them,” remarked Varin. “And that’s really huge to have the security to know that your car owner is going to stand behind you, there’s a lot of security in knowing what the rest of the season holds.” To know that your car owner is dedicated to you takes a lot of pressure off and becomes more of a confidence booster than anything for any driver regardless of division. Varin has certainly found himself in the right place for the upcoming year.
With the injury well into the healing stages, Varin now faces the difficult task of getting himself back in shape to climb behind the wheel in the coming months. For certain, when a neck injury occurs, physical therapy and rehabilitation can often turn into a long and tedious process that can’t be rushed regardless how hard one works. Time, as it so often does, has become both the enemy and a necessity in equally consuming amounts.
“I’m very anxious to get back behind the wheel of a car,” stated Varin. “But I really want to be completely healed when I do it.” With the patience and understanding of all three car owners, there isn’t a massive amount of pressure resting on Varin’s shoulders to get behind the wheel before he’s ready. There is, however, the pressure of the points chase at his two home speedways that weighs heavily on his conscience.
“There isn’t any pressure from my car owners,” continued Varin. “But there is the pressure of knowing that if you miss a couple races at the beginning of the season it’s awful hard to win a championship.” Though there is the possibility of putting his race teams in that very position, there is confidence behind the eyes of Varin that is hard to ignore. “Right now, as of today, I know I’m not strong enough to drive a race car,” Varin said. “I have some work to do but anyone that knows me knows that that’s going to change. I’m going to do everything I can to be there at the start of the season but only if I don’t open myself up to the chances of more injuries. I have to be fully healed to get back in the driver’s seat.”
Though the injury and the uncertainty of what lay ahead of Varin made those first initial days bleak in nature, there was a very pleasant surprise that awaited him while at home; the outpouring of support and well wishes from fans, fellow competitors and speedway management alike.
“I was very, very surprised by the outpouring of support,” Varin stated emotionally. “When you’re involved in an injury such as mine and it’s pretty serious, the fans really step up to let you know that you’re important to them.” Though he had spent the majority of his career nestled between the ancient walls of the Mohawk Valley, not all of the support he received came from the local area. In fact, some of it didn’t even come from his home state.
“When I started getting cards and it turned into 14 different states and everyday there’s a handful of cards to open up you gain a little insight into the racing community.” There are so few instances in life where you understand what your existence means to others. Bobby Varin now looks at the sport in a different light. “They weren’t necessarily Bobby Varin fans,” continued Varin. “But you get to see how much racing means to these people and how much they don’t want it to change. They really don’t want to see someone have to drop out.”
With the unfortunate occurrences and feelings of loss and devastation that rocked the racing community last season fading into the past and the terrible start to 2014 being an ever-present reminder, many fans equate this to dodging a proverbial bullet. Though there is no way to downplay the severity of Bobby Varin’s injury, compared to what could have been, this is a happy ending in an otherwise continuous stretch of bad luck that has graced the auto racing scene with its presence as of late.
Some people may classify Bobby Varin climbing back into his dirt modified as a comeback while others may simply call it a return; merely another season of racing in the northeast. Whatever label is applied or however his first lap on the speedway is remembered there is one fact that remains more prevalent than any other; regardless of title, regardless of label, he will be back. That’s something we can all be thankful for.