South Carolina man doesn’t let loss of leg keep him off the race track

James Plemmons doesn't let the loss of his leg keep him from racing. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Before there were giant paved circles with tens of thousands of seats surrounding them, drivers with a need for speed took to dirt tracks in small towns across the Southeast. Many drivers pass on the opportunity to move up to the bigger circuits because their hearts lie in the middle of those muddy ovals.

James Plemmons has been around dirt tracks for most of his adult life.

"Never a dull moment here," he laughed before a race at Laurens County Speedway last Saturday. “They call it the ‘Darlington of Dirt.’”

Plemmons races across the Atlantic Coast now in his trademark hot pink and black No. 27 car.

"My favorite colors [are] pink, purple and black,” he smiled. “And a little bit of chrome in there."

Dirt track drivers have to deal with changing conditions on the fly. With every pass, the course is altered ever so slightly.

“It'll change two or three times while you're there," said David Smith, who’s known Plemmons through their shared passion as well as through business in the automotive repair field.

The ability to adapt has served Plemmons well.

On Aug. 1, 2010, he was hooking up a tow after a DUI arrest when another drunken driver, whom Plemmons said was 24 years old, came up behind his truck and smashed into the rear, severing his left leg.

"It shoved the truck on the asphalt about 20 feet with me under it,” he said, adding he has no recollection of the event.

The details he’s sharing are what was told to him by the police officers already on the scene from the first DUI stop.

“So it (the truck) basically acted like a grinder and ground that extremity off of me," Plemmons said.

Plemmons said the truck's tire sitting on what was left of his leg saved his life because the tire acted as a tourniquet.

"I bled out twice that night,” he said.

His life was saved, and the self-described “stubborn” man worked his way out of the hospital after six days.

Then Plemmons, now 44, got the itch to get back into racing, a pastime he had abandoned for a few years after starting his towing business.

“There’s no quit in me,” he said, staring through the trees toward the loud roaring of cars taking warmup laps on the track.

Driving is obviously a lot different now for Plemmons. He does not drive with his prosthesis because it would get in the way. He uses his right foot to hit the gas and brakes. That may sound normal, because in the average car the pedals are beside each other. However, in the cars that race on dirt tracks, the pedals are on separate sides of the floorboard, so he has to maneuver his foot across the seat while careening at break-neck speeds around the course.

“It's all a finesse thing that with two feet you can actually feel what you're doing,” he said.

His inner drive has garnered the respect and admiration of his competitors.

“You’ve got to admire a guy like James that races with us guys that have the use of both of our legs,” Smith said. “He really likes racing. He puts a lot into it.”

Plemmons hopes his efforts give others hope when all seems lost.

“You’re dealt cards in life,” he mused. “You have two options: you can live or you can die.”

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