Steve Park Comes Full Circle at Atlanta

Park has now come full circle HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 3, 1998) On March 6, Steve Park's driving career nearly ended in Turn 4 of Atlanta Motor Speedway. A mechanical failure in the right front of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet sent Park careening ...

Park has now come full circle

HAMPTON, Ga. (Nov. 3, 1998) On March 6, Steve Park's driving career nearly ended in Turn 4 of Atlanta Motor Speedway. A mechanical failure in the right front of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet sent Park careening into the wall. The rookie driver suffered a broken right femur, left collarbone, and right shoulder blade.

Park missed 13 races over a four-month period while Darrell Waltrip substituted. Park's return came on Aug. 1 at Indianapolis where he was running as high as fifth before a late-race accident ended his day. Since Park's return, he has posted several good runs and decent finishes as well as fought mechanical problems and accidents. The season-ending race at Atlanta marks Park's first return to the speedway where he was injured.

"I haven't been back there," Park said. "We have a pretty good race package for the Pennzoil Monte Carlo at Atlanta and we raced really well there last year in the No. 14 car so we feel pretty good about that track. You test where you need help. So, we wanted to use our test dates this year at other places."

Park will have plenty to think about when he gets back out on the reconfigured track. Painful memories may intrude on the task at hand, but only briefly, he says.

"I think it's only human to think about (the accident)," Park said. "But, that won't last long. That track is too demanding to be thinking about that accident or anything else other than driving the Pennzoil car through those corners at 200 mph. This might be hard to believe but what I really am thinking about is how good we are going to be there. I think Atlanta might be the track where I have run the best in NASCAR Winston Cup and I hope that's where we can get our first top top-10. I think Atlanta would be a great place for that."

Luckily for Park, his memory of the accident is limited. He remembers what happened before the impact and afterwards, but the during part is a little fuzzy.

"When you hit the wall of Atlanta Motor Speedway at almost 200 mph you aren't going to remember much and I don't," he said. "I only remember the car was running great and we were all pumped up. We were doing qualifying runs just trying to make sure the car was fast enough for a top five or to sit on the front row. It was just a routine day. Something happened in Turn 4. I think something broke on the right front of the car and made it do a hard right into the retaining wall. That is all I remember until I woke up with the workers pulling me out of the car."

Park was expected to contend for Raybestos Rookie of the Year, but the length of time he missed due to the accident pretty much eliminated him from the competition.

"Missing 13 races pretty much ended our chances for rookie of the year," Park said. "We ran as well as we could but there really isn't much we can do about it. I think Kenny (Irwin) and Kevin (Lepage) and Jerry (Nadeau) have had pretty good years but I wish we could have had a chance to compete with them more. I look at this as a missed opportunity, but what can you do except make the best of what has happened?"

That's in the past. Presently, Park still has some lingering physical after-effects to deal with before he can turn his attention to next year.

"I still have the rod in my leg which is going to come out someday," Park said. "My limp isn't as bad as it was. It hurts from time to time, but it's getting better each day. I work out pretty hard several days a week with a personal trainer so I'm probably in better shape now than I was before the wreck. Everything else is fine.

"I can't wait to get to Daytona and start the 1999 season. I've gotten my bad injury out of the way early in my career. So, now I can focus on winning races. Everyone starts with the same points at Daytona. We should be a lot better. This Pennzoil team will have a year's experience under its belt and we can just concentrate on doing well. Our goals for 1999 are to continue to keep improving and do everything we can so that one day we can be one of the cars that contends for not only victories but championships. You know Earnhardt, he isn't going to settle for anything less than a championship as a driver and I don't expect it is much different with him as a car owner."

Another veteran, Waltrip, stepped in for Park and helped the team realize some of it's potential.

"Darrell really helped this team out both on and off the track," Park said. "Remember we are a new organization. We aren't one of the big teams that just added another team. Everything we did was new this year. New crew guys, new motor program, new cars, new race shop, new everything. So, someone as outgoing and knowledgeable as Darrell coming in here really turned out to be a real benefit. He helped us grow. He helped us learn to communicate with each other and I think we helped him too. He's been there and done everything and we are all new. I will always be thankful to DW, Stevie and their girls."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Steve Park