“You’re wishing you’d die. I prayed to the Lord to take me. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
That’s what the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) did to Bobby Bennett.
But Bennett is now thankful that was one prayer God didn’t answer.
Bennett is the publisher/editor of CompetitionPlus.com, which for more than 20 years, has been the largest independent drag racing website/online magazine in the U.S.
For the past three weeks, Bennett has gone through hell, having tested positive for coronavirus.
While he’s slowly regaining his strength, he’s still feeling the effects of the virus. He lost 20 pounds in two weeks, remains quarantined from his family and doesn’t know when he’ll attend a live drag racing event again – if and when the NHRA and other circuits resume competition.
Bennett doesn’t want to be a poster boy for how coronavirus ravages a person, but he also wants to let the world know just how real and truly dangerous it is. He spoke to NBCSports.com about the difficult journey he’s endured.
“Each day I get a little bit better, a little bit stronger,” Bennett said. “It’s hard not to try to get back to a life of normal. Each day, you just have to realize your limitations and this COVID-19 affects every part of your body, even to your mindset, to your dreams at night.
“I would have dreams so intense, just meaningless nothing, just numbers running through your head where I’d wake up every morning with a migraine headache, something I never did before. It attacks every bit of your body from physical to mental to internal to everything. After about seven or eight days, you’re wishing you’d die.”
Bennett started CompetitionPlus.com back in 1999. He’s not only a gifted writer, he’s almost always up and positive, someone who enjoys virtually every waking minute of life.
But one phone call with Bennett quickly made it clear he’s still far from being 100 percent. There’s little of the normal inflection and typical excitement and optimistic outlook in his voice. Rather, he speaks slowly and monotonously.
He still has trouble breathing at times and occasionally cries – but not as much as he did when he first became so deathly sick.
“I’m still cheerful, but it’s a different kind of cheerful,” Bennett admitted. “The things you wouldn’t do a year ago, you find yourself doing now.
“Like this past Sunday, I put out a chair, sat in the yard and did absolutely nothing but watch birds. I just sat there. That was Day 14 or 15 of this thing.”
After about an hour, Bennet got up from his chair, bid the birds adieu, showered and hopped into his car, just by himself. He needed to get out, to break free from the prison the coronavirus had placed him in.
“I made up my mind,” he said. “I have the whole one end of the house to myself, while my wife and the girls stay on the other end of the house. I said, ‘This room will not own me today’ and I walked out of the house.
“Nothing makes you feel better than being able to get behind the wheel of a car. I got behind the wheel of my Camaro, 6-speed stick, covered up with my mask and gloves, wearing my Reher Morrison (NHRA team) Pro Stock shirt. I told my wife I was going out, went to the door and said, ‘Hon, I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I’ll be back.’
“I just drove for about 8 miles. The first part of the drive I was crying for the fact that I asked God to take my life because I couldn’t take it anymore, and the other half of the ride I was crying and praising God and thanked him for not answering my prayer.”
But for all the tears he’s shed over the last few weeks, part of Bennett’s self-treatment is also relying upon his noted sense of humor to try and make himself feel better.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say that I didn’t try to (spin) the wheels a couple times,” he chuckled about his spin in his Camaro.
The drive was so therapeutic that when Bennett returned to his Spartanburg, South Carolina, home, he pulled into his garage and hopped into his other car, his restored 2001 Ford Mustang GT convertible.
The resulting episode was ironic.
“I put the top down, turned the ignition, and it was dead,” he said. “I said to the car, ‘I can relate to what you’re feeling.’ I put the charger on it and said ‘Lord, when it’s time for me to go drive this thing, you’ll make this thing start.’
“I went out there and it started and I drove, listening to a (Christian music singer) Russ Taff song, ‘I Still Believe.’ I must have driven 15 or 20 miles. I didn’t want to come back home and go back to that room.
“Just to be able to get out after going through all this, people just said, ‘Oh, big deal, you’ve got the flu.’ This isn’t the flu. It’s a monster.’”
Bennett is the only individual within the NHRA community known to have contacted the coronavirus, NHRA officials told NBCSports.com on Tuesday. His wife of 18 years, Christy, and one daughter and one granddaughter who also live with them have avoided becoming infected.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I gave this to my wife or kids,” he said.
The 52-year-old Bennett believes he was first exposed to the virus on a redeye flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte on March 8. He was returning from the annual Good Vibrations March Meet drag racing event in Bakersfield, California.
“You look at the four days it sets up in your body before it rears its ugly head, it coincides with that flight back from LAX to Charlotte,” Bennett said. “You think, ‘I’m here in this airplane with nowhere to go, people coughing all around you, you’ve got no mask and what are you going to do?’ All you do is just say, ‘Go ahead and get me, monster.’
“I thought I was invincible. I’d flown back and forth to the West Coast about seven times already this year, so it was no big deal to be on the flight. I sat in first class, threw my seat back and went to sleep, but you don’t know what you’re inhaling while you sleep.”
Five days later – on Friday the 13th — and starting to display coronavirus symptoms, Bennett went to a local urgent care center, where he was told he had a sinus infection and was sent home.
Four days later on March 17, Bennett drove himself to his local hospital because he was running a fever and feeling lousier by the hour.
“As I was there, my fever kept ramping up and going up and up,” he said. “So they gave me a couple Tylenol and sent me home with basically the attitude of ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’
“They also had me sign up for ‘My Health updates.’ I might as well have been signing up for Rocket Science 101, trying to navigate that site.’ I even tried to get a hold of my doctor and sent them a letter saying something like, ‘I’m dying here.’ The response back I got was, ‘You sent this letter to the wrong place. This is customer service.’ Dude, I can’t even make that stuff up.”
On March 21, Bennett’s fever kept swinging like a pendulum between 103 and 104 degrees. He called a friend who contacted the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, which is monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak in the Palmetto State.
“I told him I can’t take this anymore. I don’t think I’m going to make it through the night,” Bennett said. “(His friend) said he’d make a call and they said, ‘Get him to the hospital immediately, don’t waste any time.’
“My wife Christy put me in the car and said ‘Please don’t die on me.’ We drove 35 miles to another hospital. They gave me a COVID swab, and they started working on my temperature. It broke in about an hour and a half, and I was totally drenched.
“The nurses come in, and they’re like in hazmat outfits.”
When Bennett left his house that day, he thought he’d back home in maybe a few hours later. He would not return until nearly four days later.
The doctor who oversaw Bennett’s treatment at the second hospital said he was sure Bennett had COVID-19, but conclusive test results had not come back yet. The doctor discharged Bennett on March 24 because more infected people were being brought in, and some were in more dire shape than he was.
However, the first hospital called Bennett’s wife while she was on the way to pick him up and did confirm a positive coronavirus result.
When Bennett returned home that evening, the second hospital called and confirmed the same results. And so began a 14-day quarantine that he is now halfway through.
One thing that has helped Bennett get through this entire ordeal is his noted sense of humor. Even when things looked dark, a good laugh was almost as effective as the medications he’s taking.
“A nurse told me if I tested positive for COVID-19, I’d be the first in this hospital system,” Bennett said, adding with a quick quip, “So I said, ‘Is there any prize like the first New Year’s Baby or do I even get a six-pack of water or something like that?’ They told me unfortunately, no.”
He then added another humorous line: “Some people win the lottery. I won COVID-19.”
Bennett worries that he and others recovering from coronavirus still might be susceptible to a relapse.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think they just throw darts at a board to try and come up with answers.
“It’s like the movie ‘Jaws.’ You know that shark is out there. Do you really want to go back into the water and go swimming?
“I know the NHRA and our community needs to have races, but we also need to stay healthy. Until we have a cure or some way that this can be contained, I don’t know when the next time I will be at a live drag race. I’m not going to put my family through the hell.”
Life is slowly starting to return to normal for Bennett. He’s finally able to eat again, is regaining some of his energy, including walking more than a mile a day – still with mask and gloves – and has put on a couple of the pounds he lost.
But Bennett wonders if he’ll ever get back to his old self.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same person I was before,” Bennett said. “There are things about me that have changed because of this that I see life through different eyes.
“The things I took for granted, I don’t take for granted anymore. Every missed deadline just doesn’t have the same pull anymore.
“Somebody had to go through it to save our friends and I thank God for the opportunity to tell people just how dangerous this is – and I thank Him for not answering my prayers to take me home.”