Tales from the beat: A deer in headlights

On Aug. 25, 2013, HBO aired an episode of “The Newsroom,” titled “Red Team III.” In its third act, Will McAvoy recounts to the team of Atlantis Cable News’ defense attorneys about various historical figures and events: Claudette Colvin, Guiseppe Zangara and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He caps off each tale with “what if” scenarios revolving around how if one or a few tiny variables changed, then it would have a colossal knock-on effect on the trajectory of the United States.

I mention this, because I sometimes ponder the night of Sept. 9, 2017, and how a misplaced headset, a Sheetz cup of coffee, drowsiness and a Virginia state trooper prevented me from smashing into either a deer or guardrails.

One night in Virginia

About an hour earlier, I wrapped up my coverage of the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. Kyle Larson took the checkered flag and set the field for the playoffs. That was after, of course, I went back up to the press box to retrieve a Racing Electronic headset that I accidentally left up there, came back down and found the door to the infield pedestrian tunnel padlocked. Thus, I walked around the Turns 1 and 2 grandstands to the infield vehicle tunnel on the backstretch.

At this point, I’m roughly 30 minutes from the interchange where Interstate 64 merges with I-81. At this point, I’ve been awake for almost 24 hours straight and had another two hours of driving to get to my Airbnb in Roanoke, Virginia. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim (can you tell I like “Hotel California?”). So I stopped at a Sheetz for coffee.

Fast forward roughly 20 minutes later, I cruise down I-64, barely awake. A woman in a white jeep flashes her brights to signal she wants to pass. So I shift over to the outer lane and she speeds by me.

Now if you’ve ever driven down I-64 going to or from Richmond, you’ll know how the Virginia State Police loves to hide its cars in between the giant trees that separate I-64’s east and westbound lanes. Sure enough, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a black-hooded Ford Taurus. A few seconds later, I see red and blue lights flash in my rear-view mirror. Thinking it’s for me, I flip my turn signal and prepare to pull over. As my foot hovers over the brake pedal, however, it zooms by my car and pulls over the white jeep.

I breathed a sigh of relief and kept driving. Thankful I wouldn’t have to call my parents in the middle of the night to explain why I was pulled over and got a ticket in Central Virginia.

Shake hands with danger

Roughly a minute later, I’m about a mile from the interchange. As I round a turn, I spot a deer in the middle of the road. My eyes widen and I scream, “Oh shit!” I yank the wheel to the right and avoided the deer, but now my 2013 Ford Fusion’s pointed at a guardrail. So I jerk the wheel to the left and spin out. All the while, thinking, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!”

Eventually, my car stops.

My hands trembled and I was breathing heavily. Once it occurred to me the car was motionless, I breathed another sigh of relief. Then my relief turned to terror when I realized I was on the road, sideways. With the driver’s side facing the direction of oncoming traffic. So then I slowly turned towards the window.

Not another car in sight.

Promptly, I pulled off the road and onto the shoulder, hopped out and circled the car. I spotted no damage and no flat spots on the tires. Satisfied nothing was wrong, I got back in and drove away.

Piecing the puzzle

It wasn’t until a year or two ago that I thought back on the night and realized the chain of events that both put me in and avoided a greater mess. The time I lost retrieving my headset, the cup of Sheetz coffee, the woman in the white jeep and the happenstance of the presence of a state trooper.

All of it coalesced into placing me in that exact moment of spacetime.

Change any one of these variables even slightly, and I’m either not in that position at all, or I or the white jeep plow into a deer or guardrail.

Maybe it’s only interesting to me, but those kind of minute details fascinate me.

Talk about tales from the beat.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Tucker White
Tucker White
I've followed NASCAR for well over 20 years of my life, both as a fan and now as a member of the media. As of 2024, I'm on my ninth season as a traveling NASCAR beat writer. For all its flaws and dumb moments, NASCAR at its best produces some of the best action you'll ever see in the sport of auto racing. Case in point: Kyle Larson's threading the needle pass at Darlington Raceway on May 9, 2021. On used-up tires, racing on a worn surface and an aero package that put his car on the razor's edge of control, Larson demonstrated why he's a generational talent. Those are the stories I want to capture and break down. In addition to NASCAR, I also follow IndyCar and Formula 1. As a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and a graduate of the University of Tennessee, I'm a diehard Tennessee Volunteers fan (especially in regards to Tennessee football). If covering NASCAR doesn't kill me, down the road, watching Tennessee football will. I'm also a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves, and I lived long enough to see them win a World Series for the first time since 1995 (when I was just a year old). I've also sworn my fan allegiance to the Nashville Predators, though that's not paid out as much as the Braves. Furthermore, as a massive sports dork, I follow the NFL on a weekly basis. Though it's more out of an obligation than genuine passion (for sports dorks, following the NFL is basically an unwritten rule). Outside of sports, I'm a major cinema buff and a weeb. My favorite film is "Blazing Saddles" and my favorite anime is "Black Lagoon."

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