NASCAR & Auto Racing

Herbert hopes to reach young drivers in time

There's nothing Doug Herbert can do to change what happened Jan. 26.

But nothing is one thing Herbert can't bring himself to do when it comes to trying to keep other parents from going through the pain he felt when he lost his two sons.

"I have to try to get that message out," Herbert said. "If I didn't do that, nothing good would have come out this at all."

Herbert was in Phoenix preparing his Top Fuel dragster for the National Hot Rod Association season. Early on a Saturday morning, he got a call from home. His sons, 17-year-old Jon and 12-year-old James, had been killed in an automobile crash near their home in Cornelius.

"I still have moments," Herbert said last week. "There have been a few times when I've just been driving down the road and something will just hit me. I will pull over and stop.

"I have to drive down Jetton Road every time I leave home. I can still see the skid marks and there is still some debris from the wreck lying around. That's tough to see."

The NHRA season has started. Herbert hasn't done anything special during the first three events, but he said his team is getting better. They tested a new car after last weekend's race in Gainesville, Fla., and Herbert has high hopes for it.

Off the drag strip, Herbert has begun a program aimed at educating young drivers and their parents about just how dangerous it can be to drive while distracted, particularly when the driver is young and inexperienced.

The name for the program, devised by the students at SouthLake Christian Academy where James and Jon went to school, is BRAKES - Be Responsible and Keep Everything Safe.

There's a Web site - putonthebrakes.com - being built. Herbert has spoken to a group of kids at Michael Waltrip Racing's headquarters and another large group of about 1,000 at the NHRA event in Gainesville.

"Talking to those kids almost made me feel selfish because it made me feel better," Herbert said.

"I think it's best thing for me and for them."

Jon Herbert was driving that Saturday morning, and he pulled into oncoming traffic lanes to make a pass. His small car was hit head-on, and he and his younger brother were killed.

Doug Herbert said he remembers making some bad decisions when he was a young driver on the street.

"But back then you had a car that weighed like 6,000 pounds and now it's more like 2,000," he said. "We also didn't have cell phones and text messaging and stuff like that, either."

Herbert is learning, too. He now knows, for instance, that teenage drivers are four times more likely to die in an auto crash than drivers between ages 25 and 34. And he knows the typical teen driver has an 89.2 percent probability of having at least one crash during his first three years behind the wheel.

Herbert said the kids from SouthLake Christian Academy who've helped with the program miss his boys, too. They knew his sons as friends and classmates, and that's part of the point of Herbert's message.

"This kind of thing doesn't just happen to people you don't know," he said. "I know I never would have expected it to happen to me."

Herbert hasn't changed much at his house or office in Lincolnton since the wreck, so he still sees photos there with him and his sons doing all the things they did together.

"Those are the happy times," he said. "The only thing that makes you sad about those is you'll never be able to do those things again."

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