Long Island Native Steve Park returned to the Winston Cup Series six months after a crash sidelined him with a head injury. "It's really good to be back. It was nerve-wracking. I think the hard part is behind us," notes Park who drives the ...
Long Island Native Steve Park returned to the Winston Cup Series six months after a crash sidelined him with a head injury.
"It's really good to be back. It was nerve-wracking. I think the hard part is behind us," notes Park who drives the Pennzoil Chevy owned by Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Park continues, "obviously I was nervous, but I was excited too. I've been racing since I was 10 so it was like getting back to normal. The team and the sponsors have stuck by me and maybe this is a small reward for them."
Park was injured at the Fall Busch Grand National race at Darlington in a freak accident. While the field returned to competition following a red flag, his steering wheel failed to lock, and came off. He lost control of his car and drove into the path of an on-coming Larry Foyt. The resulting impact and head Injury had Park out of the car with post concussion syndrome and suffering from blurred vision.
This was not the first time the two time Winston Cup winner has been unable to compete as a result of on track injuries. In 1998, following a crash during practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Park sat out 15 races.
Park who has been medically cleared to return to racing feels the recovery process in on going. "It's not the last step for me. I've earned the right to be here today. And that was through hard work. We finally worked our way up where I felt comfortable coming to Darlington just to fill the field. I felt that I was recovered enough to qualify good and race good on Sunday. We're not out of the woods yet. To race Darlington this week and Bristol next week are two of the hardest tracks to race on."
Park, who raced at the track that he was injured, saw the Irony of returning at Darlington: "It's kind of ironic to get hurt here and then come back here. We didn't really plan that; it just fell into the right time line that we had set for ourselves. I'm not going to let an injury overshadow how much I love coming here and racing here."
Ricky Craven, whose career was impacted by a head injury, was a great deal of help to Park during the recovery process.
"It was nice to be able to talk to him, (Craven) and know what he has been through. It makes me feel like I'm not on this island all by myself. There are other people out there too."
Park spent his off time working hard to return, as new teammate Kenny Wallace drove the Pennzoil Chevrolet,
"I can't think of a better guy than Kenny Wallace to take my place. He did a fantastic job. To represent our sponsors and race the car as hard as he did - I'm thankful for that. You have to remember one thing. I'm a racecar driver so I'm not good at patience. Pennzoil and Teresa Earnhardt stuck by me and gave me the opportunity to heal and come back on my own schedule."
Park who qualified forth for the Sunday Race at Darlington quickly charged to the front of the field, taking the lead on lap 19 A lead that ended early as Park got caught up in lapped traffic and slammed the wall on lap 39 after making contact with Stacy Compton. Park returned to the race finishing 39th, 166 laps down.