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Original Issue

Fire Fighter

Returned to his car a week after a fiery wreck that left him with
second-degree burns on his neck and legs and with scabs dotting
his chin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. "The pain was intense," said
Earnhardt, 29, last Friday, five days after he crashed a Corvette
in practice for an American Le Mans Series race in Sonoma,
Calif., on a rare Nextel Cup off weekend. (Most race car drivers
fear flames far more than a crash. "I can handle broken bones,
but not fire," says NASCAR vet Jimmy Spencer. "Getting burnt to a
crisp would be the worst way to go.")

Walking gingerly, Earnhardt was at New Hampshire International
Speedway last weekend. For the first time in his six-year Cup
career, his mother, Brenda Jackson, spent the entire weekend at
the track, changing his bandages in his motor home and keeping in
constant contact with his doctors, who advised him not to drive
the entire race because sweat could infect his burns. On Sunday,
Junior started the Siemens 300 behind the wheel of his Chevy and
drove 61 laps. (He told a friend the painful ride was like
"getting burned all over again.") Then--with a little help from
6'5", 275-pound jackman Jeff Clark, who pulled Junior like a rag
doll through the driver's side window during the team's first pit
stop--he made way for a relief driver, Martin Truex Jr. (Truex
finished 31st, but since Earnhardt started the race he received
the championship points, which allowed him to maintain second
place in the standings.) After Earnhardt emerged from the car,
several of his crewmates gently patted his back and pledged to
follow him into any battle, and Junior then cautiously slid into
the passenger side of a rental car and disappeared into the sunny

--Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: TOBY TALBOT/AP (2) BACK IN THE SADDLE After running 61 of 300 laps a sore Earnhardttook a seat.