By NICK SCHWIEN
In a split second, Dylan Book's life changed.
As the tire exploded in the shop, the impact caused serious, life-threatening injuries to the teen.
Three years later, Book still isn't back to 100 percent. He never will be, though.
Instead, he's 100 percent back to racing, and he's living and loving every day of his life.
That includes competing this weekend in a Northern sport mod owned by Doug Money of Hill City at Fall Nationals VI at RPM Speedway in Hays. The three-day event began Thursday night with sport compact heat races and their feature, and a test-and-tune session for all other classes. Races for hobby stocks, stocks, sport mods and modifieds begin at 7 p.m. today, with racing action beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"I love that track," Book said about RPM Speedway. "I wish I could race there weekly."
Nearly three years ago, though, things changed dramatically for Book, who grew up in Adel, Iowa, and now attends college in Mankato, Minn.
* * *
On Oct. 20, 2009, Book was servicing a tire at a shop in Adel when the tire exploded.
He doesn't remember much after that, until he came to much later in the hospital.
"My whole face was basically like if you dropped a plate on my face," he said. "My left arm, basically the bone was disintegrated, needed two metals rods and 13 screws."
Book's injuries were severe. Nearly every bone in his face was broken, save for the one between his eyes. His jaw was broken. He lost his left eye and 12 teeth.
He endured 52 hours of surgery in one year -- as a 17-year-old.
"He's actually lucky to be alive," said his mother, Karen. "It's quite amazing. He's quite an inspiration."
Book still suffers from effects of the accident. He has no sense of smell or taste -- his mom said hamburgers and French fries taste the same to him -- and one bone still is broke below his eye. The pain still is there in his left arm.
There were a few 12-hour surgeries to repair his face, and he faces the prospect of even more surgeries in the future.
"Everything happens for a reason," Book said. "God kept me on Earth that day.
"If I look back at what happened, more times than not, most people die. That's scary."
His family knows faith and prayers helped during those first few weeks.
"We had to trust God completely with this whole entire thing," his mother said. "It's his plan, not ours."
* * *
The accident definitely wasn't Book's plan. Instead, dreams of big-time racing and big-time wins were on his mind.
A few weeks earlier, he had put the wraps on a successful season in the IMCA hobby stock ranks, winning national rookie of the year honors and regional rookie of the year honors.
The sky was the limit for the teenager.
"I don't know how to put it into words," said Daniel Hilsabeck, a racing friend of Book's from Adel. "But he's always been a positive person. He always has a bright outlook."
As Book lay in the hospital, the outlook wasn't good, though. His future was uncertain.
His jaw was wired shut, and he was forced to have a feeding tube -- one he eventually wore for a year and a half.
"In the hospital, he couldn't talk and couldn't see," Karen said. "He had to communicate on a white board. The first thing he said on the white board was, 'What happened?' The second thing was, 'Will I be able to race?' "
And, Book wanted to be able to accept his national and regional rookie of the year awards -- in person -- at the annual IMCA banquet in November of that year.
That's where his positivity and determination paid off. He made sure he was out in time to accept the honors.
Two days before the Nov. 14 banquet, Book was discharged from the hospital.
In bandages, a sling and his face pieced back together, he was present to take the awards.
"That was really cool," Book said. "Brett Root (vice president of operations at IMCA) made a speech about my compassion to race. He told me to stand up. There were so many people there, thousands who race across the U.S., and they all stood up for me."
Book, just days removed from the hospital and weeks removed from the horrific accident, was on his own track to recovery.
* * *
He had proven himself in the hobby stock ranks before the accident. Now, Book and his father, Jim, decided to make the leap back into racing -- this time in the sport mod class.
His family had some ground rules, first. They pulled the car into their garage, and Book would have to practice getting out of the car again and again in less than 10 seconds, according to his mother. They wanted to make sure he safely could exit the car in case of an emergency, especially with a heavily damaged left arm.
"I think for us, we saw (racing) was his passion," Karen said. "We didn't want to take that away from him. For him, everything is on pause when he gets behind the wheel. That's his love and passion. It's a blessing for him to be in that hobby to take the focus away from what happened."
His first opportunity to compete in the car came several states away.
Along with Jake Durbin and Hilsabeck, the Books traveled to Texas to turn a few laps in February.
A week before the trip, Book had his jaw unwired and a plate taken out of his left eyebrow.
"I said, 'We're going racing,' " Book said. "I had stitches still in my eye, and my jaw was just unwired and hard to open. I ran all of 2010 with a feeding tube in."
Book turned lap after lap, trying to refine his driving skill with only one eye and a weaker left arm.
His depth of field was different, but he found a way to adjust.
He went on to win seven feature races in the sport mod in 2010.
"I didn't figure he'd recover like that," Hilsabeck said. "Now, it's not like you even notice it. He's just another guy. He does what everyone else does, and he doesn't make it a big deal."
* * *
Book is a big deal though, and look no further than his Facebook page to find that out. He's listed under "Dylan Bigdeal Book."
That's more for fun, not bragging rights, though.
Book will be racing in Clay Money's sport mod this weekend. Money will be playing football Friday night for Hill City High School.
"We talked to him, and he had sold his car and was going to a late model," said Doug Money, Clay's father. "He was without a ride, and we had a conflict with football. Clay's been a good sport about it.
"I think it will work out good. If you're going to put somebody in your car, you want to have somebody that can win."
Book, who has become friends with the Money family and Trenton Kleweno of Hays, will pilot a sport mod another time before jumping into the late model ranks next year.
"He'll do really good in that late model, for sure," Hilsabeck said. "He went to school last year and didn't race as much. But he'll do real good when he races that late model."
Book, now 20, is studying biomedical engineering at the school in Minnesota, and his mother said he hopes to become an anesthesiologist in the future.
"I think he understands what happened to him, and he has a lot of faith in God," his mother said. "He trusts his plan. I think that's part of why he wants to move into the medical field."
This weekend, Book would like to move into victory lane in Hays.
Perhaps that large payout would be just what the doctor ordered.
"(Racing) is like medicine," he said. "The adrenaline gets going and takes away all the pain I have. It's what I love to do. It's more of a medicine or a drug to help me for what I've been through.
"We'll see where that helps take me in the future."