After leaving the hospital on Sunday afternoon, Dave Esse went to the garage housing the Late Model car he crashed the night before at Amsoil Speedway.
Upon viewing the wreckage, he was amazed that he wasn't hurt worse than he was.
"I didn't think it was going to be that bad, but I'm thankful I'm able to talk and walk," Esse said Monday. "I appreciate how safe these cars are. The car did its job and absorbed a lot of the force."
Esse, who is entering his 11th season as head coach of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team, started 26th in the Northern Nationals Late Model event. He had moved up to eighth when he tried passing Rick Hanestad on a high line between turns 3 and 4. Hanestad's car clipped Esse's left front tire, sending Esse airborne at 80-plus mph over a concrete retaining wall and into a fence protecting spectators.
He was knocked unconscious but woke up moments later.
"I came to and people were hollering, 'Dave, get out of your car, it's on fire,'" he recalled.
A fan who had a fire extinguisher in his vehicle put out the fire by shooting it through the fence, Esse said.
Esse, who spent the night at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Hospital in Superior, was diagnosed with a bruised heart, a bruised sternum, a concussion, a lacerated chin that loosened some lower teeth, a strained neck and cuts and abrasions. He suffered no broken bones, but says he has trouble taking a deep breath.
"I've never been through anything like this," he said. "I moved the steering wheel back about six inches with my chest. It feels like someone is sitting on my chest and is squeezing my heart with a pliers."
Esse, who has fielded more than 300 phone calls and text messages from well-wishers since the event, says doctors told him that he needs to take it easy for a month or more.
"It feels like I've been beaten up with a baseball bat," he said.
His future racing is in doubt. Esse said repairs to the car owned by his father, Tom, will run into the thousands of dollars, and neither are sure if they will be able to fix it.