Bryce Cornet has a heart for racing, but a racing heart? That nearly ended his career
NORMAN — Bryce Cornet never expected to be sitting still the first time he feared for his life.
He is a race car driver. Has been since he first got into a go-kart in elementary school. He was only 6 when he started, but it wasn’t long before he was doing 60 mph.
The speeds — and the dangers — only got higher from there.
Still, he was never as scared on the track as he was sitting in geometry class one morning back in 2010. He was a sophomore at Norman North High School, and as he listened to that day's lesson, his heart started beating irregularly. It would race, then skip a beat. There were times it seemed to stop completely.
Cornet was used to his adrenaline flowing and his heart pounding when he was racing, but this was different.
“It was like a flip of a switch,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Could a 15-year-old have a heart attack?
On World Heart Day as health organizations around the globe advocate awareness for heart health, no one is more attuned to its importance than Bryce Cornet. He and his parents took action after that episode in geometry class. They pushed for answers.
It saved his life.
Saved his racing, too.
Next month, Cornet (pronounced core-NAY) will head to Virginia International Raceway for the Sports Car Club of America National Championship. It’s an event he won a year ago in California, and a good showing in the open-wheel, Indy Car-style machines might help him lure sponsors and make a big leap.
The 25-year-old has his eye on the pro ranks.
“I don’t think the time has run out yet,” he said of his Indy Car goals.
He already fought through so much, after all, just to get back on the track.
Racing has always been Bryce Cornet’s thing.
As a toddler, he raced toy cars around the floor at home. He watched races with his dad and became a fan of Jeff Gordon. When a TV piece about the NASCAR driver mentioned he’d started racing go-karts at 5, Bryce wanted to start.
His dad, Jimmy, searched the internet for go-kart racing and found Champion Racing at the Oklahoma Motorsports Complex, a track just south of Norman.
“My son’s 4 years old,” Jimmy told track officials, “and I want to see him about getting him into racing.”
“Well, he can’t race until he’s 5,” they said. “But you can start racing.”
Jimmy learned how to drive and build and maintain go-karts. Then right before Bryce turned 6, Jimmy and Kimberly Cornet bought their son his first go-kart.
“Bryce and I were hooked,” Jimmy said. “My wife was still terrified.”
Kimberly said, “I was always concerned with him going out there and racing.”
But both Kimberly and Jimmy quickly recognized their son's skill. Bryce wasn’t racing for long before he started winning and rising up the junior ranks.
When he was 13, he entered some races where the karts had to meet certain specifications. The machines were nearly identical, and that meant driving skill was paramount.
“We were always right there or winning the races,” Cornet said. “There was definitely that (feeling) … it was going to take me somewhere.”
That’s when Cornet and his parents devised a plan. After a couple more years, he would transition to cars. It would be a significant jump in competition, finances and commitment, but after going to Toronto to drive a formula car and get his racing license in 2009, they felt even better about his prospects. He’d driven so well that several teams showed interested in signing him.
But then, Cornet was sitting in geometry class and his life changed forever.
Bryce Cornet told his geometry teacher he wasn’t feeling well — he was even getting lightheaded — and went to the school office to call his mom.
This wasn’t the first time his heart had caused concern.
For a couple years, Cornet had episodes where his heart would race without warning. His parents took him to the doctor several times, but they were told it might be a symptom of a growth spurt or even acid reflux.
“But then it seemed to get more severe,” Kimberly said. “You could actually see his heart racing beating through his shirt. Or … it’s very hot out, and he would grab my hand and he’s ice cold."
Kimberly and Jimmy were so concerned they took Bryce to the emergency room a couple times.
But when he called that morning in 2010 and told his mom he felt like his heart had stopped, the Cornets decided to dig deeper. They called The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center and explained Bryce’s symptoms. They were told to get him to Oklahoma City immediately.
An EKG revealed the problem.
Cornet had an extra electrical pathway in his heart, which is called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It was causing his heart to beat rapidly on occasion. But he also had supraventricular tachycardia, which originates above the lower two chambers of the heart. It can cause a rapid heartbeat as well as heart palpitations.
Cornet was given medication and fitted with a heart monitor, so doctors could track him 24 hours a day. His parents were told to learn CPR immediately, too.
The family’s medical team, led by Dr. Anjan Shah, believed Bryce’s heart could be repaired. He would need catheter ablations, procedures to remove the problematic tissue in his heart.
All of that would take time and money.
“Racing was sidetracked in order for us to focus on all of that,” Kimberly said.
Jimmy said, “Racing was gone. I didn’t even think about that.”
But Bryce did.
“I was no way giving up racing,” he said. “It was so ingrained in what I do — and it still is.”
Bryce Cornet didn't race for more than a year, and even after he was cleared to drive again, it wasn’t always easy to get on the track. Racing is expensive, and the family's funds were depleted after heart appointments, surgeries and meds.
Cornet finished high school, then got a bachelor’s in marketing from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s of business administration from the University of Central Oklahoma. He now does marketing and business development at Spiers New Technology in Oklahoma City.
But along the way, he found a way to keep racing, doing a little more every year.
Earlier this summer, he went to Chicago and did a full-day test for a racing team out of Indianapolis. The team wants Cornet in the Indy Pro 2000 series, which is two steps below full-blown Indy Car racing.
The catch: Cornet must bring the funding.
Finding sponsors is an ever-present part of racing, and with Cornet’s marketing and business background, the networking is something he enjoys. Still, it is difficult.
Then again, so is coming back from heart surgery.
“It definitely has made me grind,” Cornet said of his health issues. “The drive I’ve had to have to push through … I really had to work hard and had to have a lot of support to do it.”
His family was there. So were his doctors. Now, almost a decade since that morning in geometry class, Bryce Cornet knows that time will always be part of his racing journey.
But it wasn’t the end of it.
“Definitely an obstacle to overcome,” he said, “but I think it’s also part of the fun.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.