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Little E back quickly after hard wreck

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 30, 2002

Rarely is Dale Earnhardt Jr. speechless.

Rarely is Dale Earnhardt Jr. speechless.

All it takes is a 3,400-pound stock car smacking the wall at 130 mph to leave Earnhardt at a loss for words -- and air. Earnhardt had the wind knocked out of him late in Sunday's Napa 500 when the driver's side of his No. 8 Chevrolet hit the wall at California Speedway.

"That was about as hard of a hit as I've ever taken," Earnhardt said. "It just took every bit of air out of me. I could hear the guys on the radio, but I couldn't answer."

Earnhardt sustained a bruised right foot near the ankle.

The wreck occurred when a tire went flat on Kevin Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet and drifted into the low lane just as Earnhardt was coming off Turn4. Contact sent both cars spinning into the outside wall.

Earnhardt left the track on crutches, but was at the Dale Earnhardt Inc. shop bright and early Monday and is expected to test today at USA Speedway in Lakeland in preparation for Saturday's race at Richmond.

"I'm pretty sore and beat up, but I'll be okay for Richmond," Earnhardt said.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DALE: Thousands of fans from throughout the nation gathered at DEI Monday to celebrate what would have been the seven-time Winston Cup champion's 51st birthday by touring a showroom filled with memorabilia.

Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.

The first fans arrived at 5:30 a.m. for the event, which went from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. at the palatial Mooresville, N.C., shop that houses the team founded by Earnhardt. It was the first time the public was allowed into the showroom. The celebration, suggested by Earnhardt's widow and DEI chief executive officer, Teresa Earnhardt, will be an annual event.

"Teresa decided we needed to celebrate Dale's birthday," DEI spokesman J.R. Rhodes said of Earnhardt's widow and DEI. "Last year, obviously, we couldn't do that."

All three DEI drivers -- Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip and Steve Park -- made appearances, as well as members of Earnhardt's former team at Richard Childress Racing.

THANK YOU NOT ENOUGH: Winston Cup team owner Jack Roush has no recollection of the small airplane crash in which he nearly was killed April 19, but realizes he owes his life to ex-Marine Larry Hicks.

Hicks, 52, saw the twin-engine plane Roush was piloting hit a power line and flip into a lake in a residential neighborhood in south Alabama. Hicks dived to pull Roush from the wreckage, then performed CPR.

Roush and Hicks have not met, but a meeting is planned before Roush, 60, leaves a Birmingham hospital to begin rehabilitating his broken left leg at the University of Michigan Medical Center near his home.

"I've got a big hug for him," said Roush, who could be released this week."I don't know what we're going to do for Larry Hicks, but we're certainly going to think about him in our prayers. We're anxious to express our appreciation and to find out what we can do to enrich his life in some way."

Will Roush fly again?

"As soon as they will let me," he said. "I won't pull back, and I won't be any less competitive and I won't be any less than I can be every day of my life."

ROAD TO RECOVERY: Ricky Hendrick, who had surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder sustained March 2 at Las Vegas, hopes to return to Busch Grand National action Friday at Richmond. Hendrick, 22, will run 200 laps today at Concord Motorsport Park, hoping to get the green light from father and team owner Rick Hendrick.

THE FUTURE IS NOW: Rookie Jimmie Johnson, 26, won Sunday's Napa 500, his first victory in his 13th Winston Cup start. Kurt Busch, 23, was runner-up. The next six finishers were 40-somethings: Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin and Rusty Wallace.

"I'm glad to see guys who can come in here and get the job done," Rudd said of a talented group of emerging young stars. "For many years, I was wondering what was going to happen when all of us guys go away. I don't think that's a question anymore. The sport will continue and it's going to do very well."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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