With adolescence comes the right to drive, and with that comes
the right to snicker at auto racing and say, "I could do that."
You couldn't, and not just because you don't have the requisite
eye-hand-foot coordination, reflexes, stamina or gearheadedness.
Beyond those physical traits, racing requires uncommon
psychological fortitude. Says former Formula One champion Jackie
Stewart, "One of the great abilities of racers is that they can
compartmentalize their minds."
In February during the Craftsman Truck Series Daytona 250,
Geoffrey Bodine tumbled down the frontstretch in a fiery ball of
disintegrating metal. The wreck (above) was so horrifying that
ESPN, which broadcast the race live, didn't replay it. Bodine
suffered a cracked vertebra, a broken right wrist and numerous
cuts and abrasions. He was knocked unconscious, and while he was
out, he says, he saw his father--who died in 1998--bathed in bright
light and standing in a long tunnel. Bodine's rehab included
intense physical therapy and a guest spot on The Montel Williams
Show (the topic: near-death experiences). Last Friday he climbed
back behind the wheel of a car, somehow cleared his mind and
turned in the fourth-fastest qualifying lap for the Winston Cup
race in Richmond. On Saturday he ran 187 of the 200 laps before
leaving the cockpit in exhaustion.
Bodine wasn't the only driver to return last week from a
near-fatal crash. On May 2, Scottish F/1 driver David Coulthard
was en route from southern England to Nice, France, when his
Learjet was forced down in Lyon. The plane cartwheeled and caught
fire, and the nose was sheared off, killing the two pilots.
Coulthard, his fiancee and his personal trainer walked away from
the wreckage (above, left) with only minor injuries. By all
rights Coulthard should have been on a therapist's couch--or at
least in one of Montel's guest chairs--on Sunday. Instead he was
in Barcelona, where he finished second in the Spanish Grand Prix.
That Bodine could even look at a car again, let alone drive one,
and that Coulthard could similarly block out thoughts of his
brush with death underscores the mental toughness required to
race for a living. "I'm not afraid of getting in another wreck,"
Bodine says. "There's no apprehension whatsoever. It might be
normal to have some apprehension, but racers aren't normal."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN RAOUX/THE ORLANDO SENTINEL/CORBIS SYGMA
COLOR PHOTO: ERIC CABANIS/AFP