Skinner On Road Back

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Mike Skinner has been through this before. Three months ago, Skinner was getting ready to get back in a race car. His broken left ankle needed time to rehabilitate, and Skinner was working to heal as fast as possible.

Skinner returned to race five times, but now he’s doing it all over again. Surgery. Rehab. Sweat. No race cars.

And in an added twist (no pun intended), Skinner switched race teams.

So let’s see if we’ve got the Skinner Scorecard down: Drive in 18 races, crash at Chicagoland Speedway, break left ankle, re-injure left knee, have surgery on left knee, stop driving, rehab left ankle and knee, get back in car, get fired from Richard Childress Racing team, race five times, have surgery on left knee, get hired by another team, rehab left knee.

An offensive lineman might be jealous of all the trouble Skinner has faced this year. He’s been in the news more times than a guy who’s had one top-10 finish probably deserves, but Skinner likely wants to keep his name out of the injury headlines for the rest of his career.

Last Wednesday, a day after being officially announced as the driver of the No. 4 Morgan-McClure Chevy for 2002, Skinner had reconstructive surgery on his left knee. He was missing an anterior cruciate ligament, but that’s all fixed now. The surgery is the easy part.

The difficult part is getting the knee ready to get back in a race car.

“I completed my first physical therapy session on Monday,” Skinner said. “The doctor says it is going to take four months to heal and I am beginning to realize why. We primarily worked with muscle stretches. The therapist explained to me the importance of keeping the muscles mobile during this critical time.”

People who have gone through rehab understand what a painful and tedious task it is to get parts of your body back in shape. It’s a little like losing weight. You work, exercise, eat right, and a month later…nothing has changed.

The knee will take four months to get back to 100 percent, or as close as possible. Four months from the day of Skinner’s surgery is Feb. 3. That’s 11 days before the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.

“My goal is to be 100 percent and back in a race car by the middle of January,” Skinner said. “I am still on crutches and will remain on them for about four weeks. I am able to drive, but I do get tired easily.”

And that’s without using weights as part of his rehab. The broken left ankle won’t allow those, so Dr. Craig Hankins, who performed the surgery, has Skinner doing other exercises.

“No weights were used in the therapy,” Skinner said. “Because of the surgery performed on my ankle, weight training will not be incorporated into the sessions for a few more weeks. I will attend the physical therapy session three times a week for about an hour each time. Then, I have exercises to complete at home.

“Dr. Hankins has the reigns pulled pretty tight on me right now. He said the surgery was a success. We feel I will be ahead of schedule if the first few days are any indication.”

Skinner has been stuck at home in Daytona Beach Fla. with his wife, Angie, and his dog, Opus. Race car drivers have never been patient people, and Skinner is itching to get going.

Somewhere. Anywhere.

“It is difficult being cooped up like this,” Skinner said. “It certainly is not a vacation. Angie, Opus and I are thinking about driving the motor coach to Talladega next week. It will take a few extra days, but if we can make a fun trip out of it, we will do it. Primarily, we would like to bring the coach so we can visit.

“Larry (McClure) will have his coach there, and we can be close to him. We miss the trailer park and we want to go visit everyone. I miss the (RCR) 21 and 31 crews too. It would be nice to get back to the track and hang out.”

That kind of attitude should serve him well as he tries to rehab. Moving too fast – something foreign to a race driver – doesn’t help when trying to get a reconstructed knee back in shape.

“We will see how everything progresses,” Skinner said. “I have to be a good boy to get well quick. I cannot take any chances or push it too far right now. My main focus is being able to give everything I have to the No. 4 car next year.”

Skinner wants to buy a house near Morgan-McClure’s shop in Abingdon, Va. to be closer to the team. After five winless years with RCR, Skinner is hoping for a fresh start with the No. 4 team.

“I am ready to move forward with the team, whether it is providing knowledge or being there for emotional support – anything possible to begin contributing to our new venture together,” Skinner said. “The bottom line is I miss being there and being able to put my two cents worth in. I want to get to know all of the guys at the shop better.”

Getting better. That’s Skinner’s task.

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