It was only a three-foot fall off the deck of his cabin, but Aaron Marcum’s chin took the brunt of the landing.
“It didn’t break my neck, but it jumbled up my spine pretty good,” Marcum said. “So now I have some hardware in there. I am considered a C6 quadriplegic, because it messed with my hands, too.”
Marcum spent five months at Saint Alphonsus in Boise after the freak accident on August 21, 2016.
But on Thursday afternoon at Firebird Raceway, Marcum was back to doing what he loves.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
The 39-year-old Meridian resident won his first four rounds and advanced all the way to the quarterfinals in the Bracketeer drag racing class on the opening day of Firebird’s 47th annual Pepsi Nightfire Nationals.
“At one point I thought when I got injured that I would never race again,” Marcum said. “Then I just always kept very upbeat about my injury. Every little thing was motivating. My toes started to move, my foot started to move. Now my legs move.”
Because Marcum didn’t sever his spinal cord in the fall, he has gradually regained some function in his arms and legs with the help of physical therapy. By the time he left the hospital, Marcum was skilled enough to drive a van that was modified with hand controls in place of the usual foot pedals for the gas and brakes.
Marcum raced that van a few times at Firebird in the summer of 2017 and he decided if he could race the van, he could find a way to get back into an actual race car.
With the help of his friend Chris Thomas, who founded Access Vans in Meridian, Marcum had a Chevrolet S-10 pickup modified to suit his needs. He raced the pickup at Firebird’s Halloween Classic last October, and it was rewired over the winter and fitted with a new transmission.
“I’ve raced every points race that they’ve had out here since,” Marcum said. “So that’s every other weekend or every two weekends, which is perfect for me.”
For the most part, Marcum prefers to do things on his own, but his friend, Steve Robert, has joined him at the track this season to lend a hand. Marcum was a heavy equipment operator for 20 years before his accident and estimates he often worked about 80 hours a week.
“I feel like I should do more for him, but he doesn’t let me,” Robert said. “... It’s an inspiration to see him succeed and never give up.”
Marcum, a 1997 graduate of Meridian High, started racing at Firebird as a teenager and eventually progressed to traveling the country as a professional driver on the NHRA circuit in the Super Gas and Super Comp classes. He won several NHRA national events over the course of his career but says a runner-up finish at the 2008 K&N Spring Fling Million in Memphis, Tenn., remains one of his favorite racing memories.
When he was nine years old, Marcum moved in with his grandparents, Delbert and Jan Marcum. They helped him get into drag racing in the first place, and are delighted to see him back in action.
“They love it. They’re very supportive of it. They help me with everything,” Marcum said. “They traveled around when I traveled around racing when I was younger. My grandpa’s always been there.
“He’s just pretty sick right now, so he can’t, but I guarantee if I were to win, he’d come right out there the next day.”
Marcum says he’d like to win one more time in his career for his grandfather, and he’s making steady progress toward that goal.
He crossed another goal off his list this past spring by competing again in the K&N Spring Fling Million, and he is currently ninth in Firebird Raceway’s Super Pro points standings out of 22 racers.
Not bad for someone who thought he’d never race again.
“It’s a real thrill to see Aaron out there racing again,” Firebird General Manager Scott New said. “From our perspective, just the fortitude and perseverance not to throw the towel in, it really gives you great hope that we’re able to provide an opportunity for somebody that was a terrific racer literally all his life a chance to come out there and continue performing. He’s running out here with the best of the best.”
Nightfire returns to Firebird
Firebird Raceway’s 47th annual Pepsi Nightfire Nationals continues through Sunday.
In addition to the hundreds of drag racers competing in the Bracketeer Challenge, the event also features professional AA/Funny Car, AA/Fuel Dragster, AA/Fuel Altered and Pro Modified eliminators.
Gates open at 8 a.m. each day, and pro racing hits the track at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. The pro finals resume at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Adult pit-side admission is $25 on Friday and Sunday, while Saturday’s adult pit-side tickets are $35.