Not only was Jeremy Clements told that it might not be possible to save his right hand, but he certainly wouldn’t race again.
That was the diagnoses from doctors as Clements prepared for surgery in July 2004. His right hand and arm had been seriously injured while racing a dirt late model in Madison, North Carolina. The torque arm broke and pulled the drive shaft in two, sending it into the cockpit of the car.
But while the outlook seemed bleak, Clements refused to imagine life without racing.
“I just said, ‘Well, get (my hand) as good as you can’ and if it could wrap around a steering wheel and gear shifter,” Clements told NBC Sports. “All I knew and had done was drive, and there was no backup plan in my mind, and I just would be devastated if I didn’t get to race again.”
Clements underwent 10 surgeries, and his hand was saved. In doing so, doctors sowed it to his thigh to get a skin graph. They also did a bone graph from his hip and a graph from his foot. With physical therapy, it took Clements about a year before he could fully use his hand again.
Today, Clements says the injury is not a hindrance as he competes full-time in the Xfinity Series. Instead, it’s just a memory.
“It’s got a scar that looks like I got burned on the top of my right hand and there are some scars on my arm where they cut it and had to fix the bones and put the screws and plates in,” Clements said. “Yeah, definitely got some marks on it for sure, but I still have it, so that’s the main thing.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed
NBC Sports: How did you get started in racing?
Clements: Grew up around my grandpa, Crawford Clements, he was always working on racing stuff. He was a crew chief back in the 1950s and ‘60s and then started Clements Automotive, which turned into Clements Racing. My dad and my two uncles raced some and also built racing engines, so I got started racing in go-karts when I was seven because I was tearing up the yard at our house too much, so they finally got me a racing go-kart for Christmas. Just kept moving up the ladder from there.
NBC Sports: Who did your grandfather work with?
Clements: Him and his brother, Louis, they worked with a bunch of different drivers. To give you a couple, Buck Baker and Rex White, Junior Johnson. They won the championship in 1960 with Rex White, my uncle Louis as the crew chief and Crawford was on that team, and other teams but they were helping each other. That’s where all the history comes from, and that’s the throwback scheme we ran at Darlington from when Rex White drove.
NBC Sports: Being a smaller team, what’s the toughest challenge for the organization on a weekly or yearly basis?
Clements: Too many to tell you. I bet the sponsorship we race off per year is what (the bigger teams) get for like two races, and I’m not even exaggerating. We race off that, and we race off the purse, and we have to cut a lot of corners. Not getting the tires we need every weekend or running an engine too much until it breaks a piston, like at Kansas. We have to cut a lot of corners; we don’t have a lot of people. So we don’t have everything we need all the time, like different springs or stuff you see at the racetrack you might want to try, but a spring is $1,500 and you might need that to buy the next set of tires. So it’s hard to keep up with everything going on in racing because money buys speed. We got to keep it going, but we don’t want to bite the bullet so we can be there next week.
We’re just not as prepared as probably you could be if you didn’t race all the time, but in my opinion, if you race all the time you’re better. If you’re racing every week, you’re learning and trying to make the program better, so that’s what I would rather do. But we do a pretty good job of just continuing it, and we can make ourselves better at times when we do get additional funding to do that. But we don’t have an engineer; my dad is the crew chief when he’s really not a crew chief, so it frustrates me sometimes because if I could get a good ride, we could be racing for the win every weekend. On one hand it’s very frustrating to have to race like this, but on the other hand, it’s pleasing, and I don’t take it for granted. It’s a blessing.
NBC Sports: Missing races and not collecting points and purse money is a big deal for a small team so did you worry that your indefinite suspension (in 2013) could be the end of your career?
Clements: I really don’t want to talk about that stuff much because I’ve done in the past, but yeah, I didn’t know what the future held basically. Points do a mean a lot for us at the end of the year because the better we finish, the more money we can make. Especially if we finish in the top 20 and it’s hard to finish in the top 20 in owner’s points anyway. It gets us through the offseason with no money coming in basically because we don’t have a sponsor giving us a set amount of dollars every week. This past year with the points money we were able to get a pull-down machine, something we needed for years and years, so to finally do that is what I think made us run better.
NBC Sports: What type of travel do you like to do and where have you gone?
Clements: I just like to travel and see the country. I like going on vacations. Who doesn’t like a good vacation? My fiancée (Courtney) and I went to Universal for the Halloween festivities during our first off weekend a few weeks ago, so I love doing stuff like that when I get the chance. We went skydiving where I proposed to her back in July. I like doing extreme stuff like white water rafting and skiing and anything to get an adrenaline rush.
NBC Sports: You also like video games, correct?
Clements: I play some Xbox and stuff when I have time, I get on iRacing. I don’t really consider iRacing a video game, though. It’s really helpful to me, especially when we go to the road courses I get on there a lot to practice because you’d be surprised the gearing and the braking is all the same. Those guys did a phenomenal job on that. I use it as a tool to help me refresh and over the offseason I get on there a lot because it helps you refocus and get adjusted to everything again. It just gives you a visual to expect when you get on track.
NBC Sports: Where did you get the idea to propose while skydiving?
Clements: I wanted to do something exciting, I didn’t want to just take her to a restaurant and do that thing. I’ve seen that done before. It was something we had talked about doing anyways, we had never been skydiving. I’ve jumped off the stratosphere and done the bungee cords stuff at Carowinds (amusement park in North Carolina), but never been skydiving. So we wanted to do it anyway and figured I would propose there; it worked out. I told the people that I’m going to propose to her so I probably need to go first so I can get down there before she gets there. We actually signed up to go again. It’s so much fun and I would recommend it to anybody. It was way easier than I expected. It was a lot of fun and what a great view when you’re way up there.
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