Park Returns to Track

Park returns to the track By Dave Rodman NASCAR Online BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 28, 1998) NASCAR Winston Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Steve Park returned to a race track Saturday for the first time since...

Park returns to the track By Dave Rodman NASCAR Online BRISTOL, Tenn. (March 28, 1998)

NASCAR Winston Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Steve Park returned to a race track Saturday for the first time since he suffered multiple injuries in a crash during practice March 6 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and he declared the experience the best medicine possible in what is shaping up to be a lengthy recovery.

Park suffered a fractured right femur, broken left collarbone, broken right shoulder blade, and two broken teeth when a suspension part broke on his Pennzoil Chevrolet, sending the car heavily into the fourth turn wall at the lightning-quick AMS oval. He limped into the Bristol Motor Speedway infield media center on crutches prior to Bud Beer Second-Round Qualifying for Sunday's Food City 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race.

"I just can't tell you how glad I am to be able to be back around something that I truly love," Park said.

As Park discussed his situation with the media, there was no indication anything at all is wrong with the 30-year-old pilot, the 1997 Raybestos Rookie of the Year on the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and winner of three races as a rookie there.

"It hurts all the time," Park said, remaining surprisingly cheerful. "It's a good reminder that I'm actually injured and not to overdo it."

His point raised a fact of a race driver's existence, that they can focus to the point that extraneous things -- even intense pain -- don't factor into the equation.

"It bothers me mostly at night, when I'm trying to sleep," Park said. "I'm not so preoccupied then so there's nothing to think about but the pain. My upper body is doing real well. It's sore, but I can get around on crutches OK and that's a big deal. It (upper body discomfort) doesn't hold a candle to the way my leg feels, though."

To this point, Park's recovery has been nothing short of remarkable, given his injuries. He returned from the hospital in Atlanta to his home the next week. About a week after that, on March 18, he was back at the Dale Earnhardt Inc. shop, checking on the status of his team.

"It's like I was used to going through life at 110 miles per hour and now I'm just idling along," Park said. "I spend about an hour a day on my rehabilitation. Right now that's about as much as I can take.

"Right now we're just doing what they call progressive resistance therapy. It doesn't include any weights just yet. I wanted to advance the program, but the last time I went to see the doctor, he said the bone is not strong enough to start carrying any weight. What I do is like an aerobic exercise where I do a lot of leg lifts with no weights, to get some mobility back in the knee and leg and to keep the muscles from atrophying to the point where I can't use the leg at all."

"It's going good. My therapist from Carolina Medical Center pushes me and he knows that I push myself. I try to work as hard as I can at it, everything seems to be going good and I'm making good progress."

Through it all Park said two things have held him up: his parents -- father Bob Park, a former NASCAR Modified racer who now works at DEI's race shop, and mother, Dorothy Park -- and his fans.

"We must be getting over 100 cards and letters a day," Steve Park said. "I've got eight or 10 boxes full of mail that I'm trying to get through. My rehab doesn't occupy that much time, so I'll either be at the office trying to keep things organized there or going through the mail."

His mother has been viewed as an angel straight from heaven by Park and his two roommates, who he says were "too used to a diet of Hamburger Helper."

"We've become pretty spoiled by mom coming over to make us home-cooked meals," Park said.

For now, Park can't definitely talk about getting back into the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet that's temporarily being driven by three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip.

"I haven't really set a target date yet to return," Park said. "We'll start looking at it more when I can throw these crutches away and walk a little bit, see how strong the leg is, what the doctor has to say and how the bone's healing.

"Right now, the doctor doesn't even want me in advanced physical therapy, much less the race car. He wants the bone to heal. It was a pretty bad break and it's probably going to take some time to heal, but last week he said the bone started healing and it looks pretty good. I'll see him in another couple weeks and we'll see how it goes."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip