Healing Bodine awaits return to racing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Once long ago, I was in a car crash. For months afterward, every time I looked in the rearview mirror when stopped at a light, I cringed, absolutely sure any car rolling up behind me was going to plow into my car's rear bumper.

Maybe you know what I'm talking about.

Winston Cup driver Geoffrey Bodine obviously doesn't. But then, Bodine is a race-car driver, which means he is operating on a much different level.

The last time we saw Bodine, Feb. 18, he was flying through the air, a rag doll strapped in the seat of his mangled Craftsman truck at Daytona International Speedway. They carried him into an ambulance that day and hurried to the hospital. There, he was found to have a broken wrist, a cracked vertebrae, and multiple abrasions.

"People have been asking, 'Am I going to be able to get back in the race car? Will he have the same nerve and not think about it?' I've thought a lot about it, too," said Bodine, 50. "But the first day I was conscious in the hospital, the first thing I asked was, 'When can I get back in my race car?' "

When the truck wreck started, at 190 mph, Bodine said he was prepared. He had seen the two vehicles below him and figured they were going to come up into him.

"I thought it would be a normal little bump into the wall," he said. "But the first hit against the wall knocked me unconscious. [Because of that] I have no real bad, scary feelings about the accident.

"I've seen the replay, and it didn't bother me. I have the remains of the truck up here in Charlotte, and I went to see it a couple times when I was still on pain medication, and I was amazed I survived. But again, it didn't bother me."

Last week, off all the painkillers, he went to look at the truck again. This time his reaction was different.

"On the way home from there, it did bother me," he said. "I did realize how close I came to death and how fortunate I am that I didn't lose the opportunity to be close to my kids and my family. But it wasn't like that wreck I had at Watkins Glen a few years ago."

At Watkins Glen, he said he was driving 170 mph when his brakes blew up. He knew he wasn't going to make it through the corner on the track's twisting road course.

"There was a tree at the corner, and I thought -- I was sure -- I was going to hit it," Bodine said. "I really thought I'd kill myself. Obviously, I didn't kill myself. But a lot of things went through my head that day.

"Maybe coming back from this will be one of the biggest challenges in my life. I love challenges, and I'm very anxious to get back behind the steering wheel. But I don't think it will be like coming back from Watkins Glen, because this accident, even though it was much more severe, I never thought I'd get killed. It wasn't that close in my mind."

Bodine said his full-face helmet, his strong seat, and the roll bars helped him survive. But the main reason, he said, "is my faith in God. All the other things -- the helmet, the seat -- helped, but God reached out and protected me."

Bodine said all this during a conference call before going to Texas Motor Speedway to see his team and friends this weekend. He said he plans to test at Richmond International Raceway later this month before making his return to racing at California Speedway in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 April 30.

"The biggest pain was every joint, every muscle, every inch of my body hurt," he said. "My feet, knees, elbows, fingers, toes -- everything hurt so bad. That's why I had so much pain medication. But now I'm off that, taking some herbal treatments. People say I look great and I feel great, and I really can't wait to get back."

Disaster relief

Winston Cup driver Mike Skinner will be working this month for Red Cross disaster relief -- related to last week's devastating tornadoes in Fort Worth. His first opportunity was expected to come today in the DirecTV 500 at Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway, which was untouched by the tornadoes.

Skinner's sponsor, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, will donate $31 (Skinner's car number) for every lap he completes and $1,031 to the Red Cross for every lap he leads during races in April. Based on his racing over the past month, "Racing for Relief" is likely to generate $40,000 or more.

"It's fulfilling for me to know that my racing will raise money to help families and communities rebuild their lives after a disaster," Skinner said.

Through the year, Lowe's stores will act as official Red Cross cash donation sites.

Nuts and bolts

Fourth-generation driver Adam Petty makes his first Winston Cup start in the DirecTV 500. "It's a big deal for my entire family," said Petty, son of Kyle, grandson of Richard and great-grandson of Lee. "I'm going to have the opportunity to race against my father in Winston Cup, and it's something I'll never forget."

Next weekend, April 8-9, Championship Auto Racing Teams will make their only visit to the Middle Atlantic with the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway. It is the second race of the FedEx Series season, featuring defending champion Juan Montoya and points leader Max Papis, the surprise winner of last week's season opener in Homestead, Fla. Tickets ranging from $45 to $75 remain available. Call 1-888-629-RACE.

Becca Anderson, who is driving for Baltimore's Rothe Racing team, finished fourth at Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa., last Saturday. Her finish was the highest by a female driver in a 410 Sprint Car in Central Pennsylvania racing history.

Lincoln's 1999 rookie of the year was Danny Warrick, 17, who races in the 358 Sprint Car class for Warrick Racing of Abingdon. The Bel Air High School junior won the consolation race at Williams Grove Speedway March 12 -- his first win in a sprint car since turning pro last year.

Dover Downs International Speedway is adding 15,000 seats for the June 3 MBNA Platinum 400 Winston Cup race, making the Delaware track's seating capacity 135,000, one of the largest on the East Coast. Tickets priced from $48 to $86 are available. Call 1-800-441-7223.

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