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A year after Petty's death, pain remains

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


Nearly a year has passed since Adam Petty's death, but the grief still frequents the lives of those closest to him.

Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the crash at New Hampshire International Speedway that killed the 19-year-old, a fourth-generation driver who was in line to take over Petty Enterprises.

"It doesn't heal, it just gets worse the more time that's gone by," said Pattie Petty, Adam's mother and Kyle's wife of 22 years.

What has hindered the healing process more than anything are the tragic reminders.

Adam, who crashed head-on into a wall during a Busch Grand National practice session on May12, was the first of four drivers in NASCAR's top three series to die in a nine-month span.

Eight weeks later, Winston Cup driver Kenny Irwin was killed at New Hampshire. Craftsman Truck driver Tony Roper was killed in October at Texas Motor Speedway. Dale Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in February at Daytona International Speedway.

All four died from similar head injuries.

"It's been like a continuation of a bad dream," said Kyle, who drives for the No. 45 Dodge team that Adam was slated to race with this Winston Cup season. "We have not had an opportunity to get away from it and just let things calm down."

Though he chose not to return to New Hampshire for the Winston Cup race in September, Kyle is unsure if he will go this season.

"You want it to hurt because you feel like if it hurts, he is still close by," Kyle said. "In some ways, you feel like if it doesn't hurt, then you are forgetting him, and that's not what I want to do."

POSSIBLE IMPROVEMENT: H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, told the Roanoke Times he plans to unveil an impact absorption system for stock cars next week.

Petty, Irwin, Roper and Earnhardt died from basal skull fractures incurred when the right-front ends of their cars struck concrete retaining walls. That has raised questions about the crushability of the front ends of the cars.

"We need to eliminate totally the lethal part of this sport, and that's what everybody's objective should be."

A LEGEND GONE: Henry "Smokey" Yunick, a mechanic famous for testing the boundaries of NASCAR's rules, died Wednesday in Daytona Beach. He was 77.

"He was perhaps the most creative racing mechanic of the 20th century, who not only thought outside of the box, but way up in the ionosphere," Wheeler said. "To say he was a genius is not enough."

Yunick won eight career races as an owner in NASCAR's top series, worked as a mechanic for several drivers, including Herb Thomas, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, and was among the first group inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.

ADVICE EVERYWHERE: As a 23-year-old attempting to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500, Casey Mears has a luxury most rookies don't.

His uncle, Rick Mears, is a four-time Indy 500 winner who works for Team Penske.

During a practice session Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the younger Mears crashed and bruised his back. He was released from Methodist Hospital in the evening.

"He just needs to get back in the car, take some small steps, take his time, get his confidence back, get back up to speed and just work on getting in the show solidly and then worry about the race," Rick Mears said Wednesday.

Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 starts at noon on Saturday.

ODDS AND ENDS: Bob Horn, the Wyoming-based lawyer for Bill Simpson, told CNNSI.com he is trying to finalize plans for a meeting between the seat belt manufacturer and top NASCAR officials between The Winston and Coca-Cola 600. ... Morgan-McClure Motorsports announced driver Kevin Lepage has signed a three-year contract.

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

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