Long Scary Night

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Thank God. Thank God they're telling us that Jack Roush is alive.

On the day of his 60th birthday, the Winston Cup Series team owner was critically injured in a plane crash near Troy, Ala. He was airlifted to a Birmingham hospital, where a battery of tests were performed on him.

Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway, Roush Racing officials gave us the good news that he was alert and responding to doctor’s questions. Whew.

In my hotel room in downtown Birmingham Friday night is when I heard the news. Immediately I sprang up and headed over to the hospital, which was approximately 10 minutes away.

On the way over, several thoughts ran through my head. Oh Lord, not another Davey Allison incident. Oh Lord, please, not another fatality – albeit it off the track – for the NASCAR world to endure.

We’ve had too many of those in the past couple of years. Of course, we lost Dale Earnhardt on the track at Daytona last February. The previous year, Adam Petty was killed in a practice accident at New Hampshire International Speedway. I was approximately 200 feet away when it happened.

That day was a tremendous kick in the stomach for those us there and who knew Adam. I wasn’t prepared for something like that to happen to again.

Kenny Irwin was then taken from us, again at New Hampshire, in almost the same spot on the track. Craftsman Truck Series driver Tony Roper died later in the year in an accident at Texas Motor Speedway.

And then there was Blaise Alexander, whose life was lost in an accident in an ARCA Series race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last October. Precious lives just wasted.

Allison, of course, was killed in 1993 in a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway, cutting short what was sure to be an extremely brilliant future for the son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison.

That happened before I became involved in the sport, but many of my colleagues still regale me with stories of Davey and his talent, and how tragic it was that he had been taken in the prime of his life.

But Roush, who owns cars driven by Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch, is still with us. Thank God, thank God.

For a while there, though, with all of that in mind, one had to wonder if we'd ever see that familiar fedora again in the Winston Cup garage area.

When I arrived at the hospital, there were already a few members of the media waiting outside, most of which I am familiar with. They told me they had been waiting a short time, and didn’t know anything yet.

Hospital personnel were keeping media at a distance, so we all had to wait on the street outside the emergency room. Not exactly a comforting place to be while waiting for such news.

I’m not really fond of hospitals anyway, except for being there for the birth of my daughter a few weeks ago. But then that was a much happier occasion.

Minutes went by, as we all began to talk about the situation, hoping for the best and fearing the worst. At approximately 11:45 p.m. (CT), NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Hunter emerged from the emergency room at UAB Trauma Center, as we waited with eager anticipation.

Hunter confirmed that Roush had been critically injured in a plane crash, but expectedly, could give very few details. He said doctors were still evaluating Roush, that he was undergoing a battery of tests, and that it would be a while.

Hunter’s tone was decidedly somber – as anyone’s tone would be when something like this happens – so none of us really knew how to take it. Hunter said that Roush’s drivers, Martin, Burton and Busch, had all arrived at the hospital, as well as NASCAR officials and officials from Talladega Superspeedway.

While standing outside, Motor Racing Outreach Winston Cup chaplain Dale Beaver pulled up and walked into the hospital, as well.

For what seemed like hours (which was only about 45 minutes to an hour), we all stood there and waited for more news, but it wasn’t to come. Hunter had told us there would be a press conference at the track in the morning for an update on Roush’s condition, so most of us decided to go back to our hotels.

When I got back to the hotel, I updated the story I had already posted, but couldn’t get to sleep thereafter. It was well after 2:30 a.m. when I dozed off, knowing that I had to get up in approximately three hours.

On the way to the track, I frantically searched the radio for an update, but couldn’t find one. Still not knowing was eating me up inside.

Upon arrival at the track, I was finally able to get hold of a representative of Roush Racing. They were smiling, so that was a good sign. She told me he was alert and responding, and then a big sigh of relief.

This wasn’t to be another Earnhardt situation. This wasn’t to be another Adam Petty situation. Jack Roush is still with us. Thank God, Thank God.

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