Jeff Purvis Prepares To Drive A Race Car Again With A New Attitude After Highway Accident


Staff member
By Roby Helm
CLARKSVILLE, TN – After a highway accident six months ago left him seriously injured, National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Purvis is now back to his day-to-day routine running his scrap metal business in Clarksville. He is preparing to drive a race car again, but his attitude is different.

Purvis is recovering from a broken neck for the second time in four years. The first neck injury occurred during a NASCAR Busch Grand National event at Nazareth, PA in 2002. This second injury occurred on August 5, 2006 while Purvis, his crew, and members of his family were traveling to a Dirt Late Model Series race in Eastaboga, AL.

“It’s one thing to wreck in a race car when no one is with you, but it’s another thing to wreck when your family is with you,” Purvis said. “It really makes you think about where your priorities are in life. It’s like if I wasn’t racing, maybe we wouldn’t have been in that situation at that time.”

Purvis was by himself when he had his near-fatal wreck in a race car at Nazareth, PA. It was a wreck Purvis said he has no recollection of, or the entire weekend around it. It was a wreck that took him over two years to recover from. The highway wreck was different. Purvis can recall every detail of what occurred inside the transporter during the wreck.

“The wreck probably took eight seconds to happen from start to finish,” Purvis said. “But it seemed like minutes. Time seemed to slow down, and to totally describe what happened could take hours.”

Purvis, his wife Margo, his 16-year-old son Clay, his crew chief Matt Angel, Angel’s brother Rocky, and crew member Ben Britt were riding in the race team’s toterhome, a semi tractor with living quarters attached, that was pulling the race team’s trailer loaded with the race car, spare parts, and equipment. They were traveling southbound on I-65 near Cullman, AL.

“Margo and I were sitting on the couch, Ben was sitting at the table across from us, Clay was sleeping in the bunk above the cab of the truck, Matt was driving, and Rocky was to his right in the passenger seat,” Purvis said. “Ben had just got up to get a bottle of water out of the refrigerator when I heard the tire blow. I immediately knew it was a left front because the hauler immediately veered to the left and into the median strip.”

While it was Jeff Purvis the racer that immediately knew what the problem was due to his experience and instinct, in the next split second, all of that changed. The fate of Jeff Purvis and those around him were now in God’s hands. They were now passengers of fate.

Fate doesn’t care that you’re in the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. Fate doesn’t care how many World 100s you’ve won. Fate doesn’t care how many NASCAR races you’ve won. Jeff Purvis couldn’t get out of this wreck with a quick jerk of the steering wheel, or a quick jab of the brakes.

There was only one thing Jeff Purvis wanted to do, and knew he had to do at this time. Fate had caused the racer instincts – with all of the fame and success – to leave, and for the most important instinct Jeff Purvis had to take over. Jeff Purvis’ instincts as a father took over.

“I knew I had to get Clay out of the bunk over the cab of the truck because if the truck got upside down, that would not be a good place to be,” Purvis said. “He was asleep when everything started, and we were all yelling for him to get out of there. I jumped up, went for the front of the truck, and lifted my arms up to pull him out.”

Purvis said at that instant, things got worse, as the truck and trailer hit the side of a crossover culvert in the median strip.

“When we hit the culvert, the truck made a sudden stop, and Ben, who was behind me at the refrigerator, came flying forward,” Purvis said. “When he hit me, I broke my back, but him hitting me prevented him from going straight through the windshield. After we hit the culvert, the truck started going up and it was real quiet.”

This is another situation an experienced race car driver knows. When you’re going up and it gets quiet, you know you’ve left the ground and you’re airborne.

“I was still trying to get Clay out of the bunk even though we were airborne, and even though my back was broken,” Purvis said. “About the time we landed in the northbound lane of the interstate, we simultaneously hit a northbound car and the guardrail. That was a big hit, and that was when I broke my neck.”

The thing that Purvis feared, the truck getting upside down, was beginning to happen, as the hauler got up on its side after hitting, and going through the guardrail.

“I was still trying to get Clay, and we were on our side,” Purvis recalled. “I remember looking over at Margo, who was pinned against the side of the toterhome. She asked me if it was over, but I knew we were still carrying a lot of speed. I told her no, and it was about then that we started hitting trees.”

The big rig had hit a culvert, another vehicle, and a steel guard rail, but was still moving. Purvis said the trees were no match for the rig.

“The trees stopped the rig pretty quickly, and the last movement I remember was when the truck rolled back down on its wheels because that’s when I knew I was hurt,” Purvis said. “When the track landed on its wheels, Clay rolled out of the bunk on his own. It was about then the rig caught fire.”

Purvis said Matt Angel began helping everyone out of the rig in quick order. Purvis was the most seriously injured person in the wreck with a broken neck, broken back, and a bad cut on his head. With the truck on fire, there was no time to strap Purvis to a backboard to immobilize his body to protect his injuries.

“There were trees and branches everywhere inside the toterhome, and it looked like a tornado went through there,” Purvis said. “The pain I felt when I jumped from the truck to the ground was pretty intense. Someone had stopped with a travel trailer, and they got me in there where I could lay down until the medics got there.”

All of the occupants in the rig escaped with their lives, but the rig, and all of its contents, including the race car and the equipment, were totally destroyed and burned to the ground.

It’s been six months since that fateful day, and Purvis said Margo, Clay, Matt, Rocky, and Ben have all recovered from their injuries. As for himself, Purvis said he feels the after effects everyday, but he’s O.K. with that.

“I’m doing pretty good, but I’m sore everyday,” Purvis said. “I’m just glad to feel it because it could have been a lot worse. I’m still here, I go to work everyday, and I’m very thankful that everyone else is O.K.”

Purvis has lots of fans, and the number one question they ask is whether or not Purvis will race again. Purvis said this is also a question he has asked himself during the last six months. In the last six months, Purvis has had a lot of time to reflect on his life, his family, and his career.

“When you go through what I went through with my family riding down that interstate, racing doesn’t seem that important,” Purvis said. “After it happened, I blamed myself for putting them in that position, and if I wasn’t going to a race, we might not have been there. I’m still able to come to the scrap yard, and run it. That’s what puts food on our table, and clothes on our back.”

Even though Purvis has put more emphasis on his business, there is still a big place in his heart for racing, not just in his heart, but now Clay has been bitten by the racing bug.

“I still love racing, and I still want to drive a race car again,” Purvis said. “But I think my priorities about racing are changing because Clay now wants to race,” Purvis said. “I’ve told him I’ll help him as long as he realizes his priorities are here working with me at the scrap yard. This will be his someday, and I want him to take an interest in it. As long as he comes here to work, I’ll help him with his racing.”

Purvis said he is going to prepare a crate late model for Clay to drive in Weekly Racing Series competition during the 2007 season.

As for himself driving a race car, Purvis said he will climb behind the wheel of a dirt late model again in March, and said he is going to take someone with him.

“The Dirt Late Model Series Director Mike Vaughn asked me to drive their two-seat dirt late model at Deep South Speedway in Loxley, AL on March 16-17 to benefit the American Cancer Society,” Purvis said. “These are two things I really believe in, and I think it’s pretty neat that when I drive a race car again, I can take somebody with me to share the experience.”

Purvis was one of Vaughn’s biggest supporters when the latter began the Dirt Late Model Series in 2005 when it was called Crate Racin’ USA. Purvis finished sixth in the 2005 point standings, and was seventh in the 2006 point standings at the time of his accident.

“The Dirt Late Model Series and affordable crate late model engines have come along just at the right time,” Purvis said. “Super Late Model racing was becoming too expensive for the average weekly racer, and that’s where drivers come from to race nationally. I started out as a weekly racer, and if I had to start racing now, there is no way I could do it with the engines as expensive as they are. I believe in the Dirt Late Model Series and what it is trying to accomplish in the industry.”

There is also a very special place in the heart of Jeff Purvis for the American Cancer Society, and its cause.

“My wife Margo is Vice President of the American Cancer Society Chapter here in Clarksville, and we’re both very active in this cause,” Purvis said. “All of the money they collect goes to research in trying to find a cure for cancer. I want to cure it. I’m no doctor or scientist, so they’ll have to find it, but if I can play a role to help them, I’m more than happy to do it. I’m thankful that I have the ability to do something that can raise money.”

Fans will be able to bid for rides with Purvis in the special two-seat dirt late model at Deep South Speedway in Loxley, AL on March 16-17.

“Although we hated that Jeff, his family and his crew were involved in the highway accident, we’re happy that everyone is O.K., and that Jeff is ready to get back behind the wheel of a race car again,” Vaughn said. “We have always been appreciative of Jeff’s support of the Dirt Late Model Series, and we’re happy Jeff has decided to join us in an effort to raise money for the American Cancer Society. We’re also looking forward to working with Jeff in launching Clay’s racing career this season.”

While the after effects of what happened to Jeff Purvis on August 5, 2006 are still felt by him when he gets up in the morning, it has also given him reason to be thankful for his family, his friends, and his fans.

“I hurt when I get up in the morning, but it hurts so good because I’m still alive to feel it,” Purvis said. “I thank God that I’m still alive, Margo and Clay are still alive, and Matt, Rocky and Ben are still alive. I am also very thankful for all of the friends and race fans that checked on me, and have asked about me over the past six months. There have been thousands of visits, phone calls, E-mails, cards, letters, and Internet responses from all over the world. We are so thankful for each and every one of them.”

As far as racing goes, even though he will drive again in the two-seater charity runs and help his son Clay launch his career, the question still remains whether or not Jeff Purvis will race competitively again. According to Purvis, it’s not as much of a priority as it used to be.

“After what me and my family went through in the wreck, I’m so thankful that we’re still alive, and I can come to work and provide for them,” Purvis said. “I have a good and successful business that can provide for my family and give Clay a good future, and that’s the main priority. I still love racing, but after the wreck it’s just not as important as it used to be. I’d like to race competitively again because I wasn’t hurt on the track this time, and if the time and place is right, I might do it again, but right now, there is no plan to do so.”

Jeff Purvis is still alive thanks to God’s grace. He is still alive to provide for his family, and to contribute in the fight to cure cancer. In everything that has happened to Jeff Purvis since 2002, should he ever be called by God to become an Evangelist, what a testimony God has given him to share with others.