TULSA, Okla.—Miraculously, Ashton Torgerson walked out of the hospital and into the press room at Expo Square on Saturday afternoon.
In Wednesday night’s preliminary A Feature, the 16-year-old from Medford, Oregon, survived one of the scariest wrecks in recent Chili Bowl Nationals history, when his midget racer flipped end-over-end and threw Torgerson from the car.
As the car and its driver turned upside-down, Torgerson fell through the roof bars and landed helmet first on the dirt racing surface. As he lay prone on the track, emergency workers rushed to the scene and an ambulance was summoned.
The ambulance carried Torgerson to St. Francis Hospital, and news of the initial examination was encouraging. The young driver had feeling in his arms and legs, but scans revealed bleeding in his brain.
Rico Abreu, winner of Wednesday night’s preliminary and a fellow “Rowdy” athlete, visited Torgerson that night and dropped off the trophy he won after the resumption of the race. Abreu returned to the hospital the following morning to buoy Torgerson’s spirits.
Fellow driver Kevin Thomas Jr. was another unexpected visitor.
With the bleeding in his brain stabilized, Torgerson was released from the hospital on Friday and had recovered enough to return to Expo Square on Saturday and take questions from reporters.
Torgerson arrived at the press room just as the E Feature he would have raced was about to begin. Aside from a scrape on his nose and a puffy, reddened left eye, he looked none the worse for wear, but he remembers nothing of the accident itself.
“Wednesday night, I started off on pole, and all I can remember is the drop of the green flag,” Torgerson said. “After that, I couldn’t tell you what happened. Obviously, it was a very bad wreck there, and the next thing I remember was a tiny bit of the ambulance there.
“I got to the hospital, and they were checking me out, you know ‘What hurts? What hurts?’… I haven’t seen (the wreck) yet, and I’m not sure I want to. I heard it was a pretty bad one.”
The visits from Abreu and Thomas meant the world to Torgerson.
“Rico—he’s such a good guy—I was laying there and he walked in and set the trophy on the table,” Torgerson said. “He kept asking, ‘How is he? How is he doing?” He set the trophy on the table there and said the trophy was for me.
“It meant a lot to me. Rico, he didn’t have to do any of that, but, man, he’s such a great guy to be able to come there that quick.”
Torgerson also heard from NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch, who founded the Rowdy Energy brand.
“He was one of the first ones to reach out,” he said. “He sent a message to me right now. He keeps checking on me, him and (Busch’s son) Brexton. They keep asking how I’m doing. Brexton’s going to send me a card.
“I’m really thankful for those guys and their whole family.”
Torgerson’s father, Danny Torgerson, said his son’s belts were tight when took to the track for Wednesday’s preliminary and that the investigation of reasons Ashton was thrown from the car were ongoing.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not 100-percent concerned about that right now,” Danny Torgerson said. “I’m just happy that he’s here. There’ll be time to take a better look at that and obviously to try to figure out what happened…
“We want to try to get some answers, because we do need those answers.”