LOS ANGELES (Jan. 5, 2000) Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt would never let something as simple as spinal surgery stop him from celebrating his son's second NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship. So Earnhardt, just 19 days after undergoing an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion procedure in North Carolina, flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday morning with wife Teresa to prepare for Friday night's NASCAR Busch Series fete at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel that will honor two-time series champion Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Earnhardts own the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet team for which Earnhardt Jr. drives.

A spokesman for Earnhardt's GM Goodwrench Service Plus Chevrolet NASCAR Winston Cup Series team said the gritty veteran has been "progressing right on schedule, if not ahead of schedule a little bit" in his recovery from the surgery.

Team spokesman J.R. Rhodes said Earnhardt's No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team was in Talladega, Ala., on Wednesday testing at Talladega Superspeedway with Childress' son-in-law Mike Dillon handling the driving chores. Earnhardt's other NASCAR Winston Cup Series team, the Pennzoil Chevrolet with driver Steve Park, was also at Talladega.

Rhodes said Earnhardt himself has not ruled out testing his car prior to Speedweeks 2000 at Daytona International Speedway, which opens with NASCAR practice on Feb. 9. While the driver is still "tender" from the surgery, the RCR superspeedway program is stout and Earnhardt is the Daytona leader in career victories with 34.

Earnhardt underwent surgery on Dec. 17 at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, located in Winston-Salem, N.C., to repair a ruptured disc in Earnhardt's spinal column. Wake Forest University Medical Center is considered one of the top-ranked medical facilities in the country for neurology and neurosurgery. Handling the procedure was Wake Forest University Medical Center neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Branch.

"Dale has visited with Dr. Branch a couple times since the surgery and is working on the doctor's timetable to begin his intensive physical therapy for the muscle rehabilitation," Rhodes said. "He's still restricted in some of the things he can do but going into this he saw it as a three- to four-week period before he could begin that so we're still on schedule."

"I'm feeling as good as I can be all things considered," Earnhardt said. "The recovery is going great and I'm looking forward to climbing back into that No. 3 car as soon as the doctor will let me. I want to thank all the fans for all their calls and cards and well-wishes -- that means a lot that they are thinking of me."

Earnhardt, a notorious early riser, has continued his schedule of beginning days as early as 5 a.m. ET. Still, Rhodes said he is "resting quite a bit even while he's taking care of his business and meeting and things like that."

Chevrolet teams have a test scheduled at Daytona on Jan. 10-11. While Earnhardt Jr. and Earnhardt's teammate Mike Skinner are planning to be there, Rhodes said Earnhardt's No. 3 car would not be, although the team was planning to attend the "mandatory" General Motors test session at the 2.5-mile trioval on Jan. 17-18. He said the team had not decided who would drive Earnhardt's cars at the test.

nascar.com