EXCLUSIVE: What happened to Tony Stewart in the sand dunes from eyewitness Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme

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Legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme gave NBC Sports a first-hand account of Tony Stewart’s accident in the Southern California sand dunes Sunday.

Stewart and a number of current and former racers including Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, Rusty Wallace and Prudhomme were having a day of fun in the sun and sand when Stewart became separated from the group and went missing for about 90 minutes.

Here’s how Prudhomme described the incident to NBC Sports:

“We were riding these sand rails. We do that quite a bit. We were all together. What really happened is, it isn’t hard to get split off from one another. In other words, if a guy makes a left turn and you’re not watching his flags or there’s dust or something, you can make a right turn and kind of get lost.

“So, we got mixed up and (Stewart) was probably missing for an hour-and-a-half from the pack, at least. He was missing, he was not there. We figured maybe he got hooked up with one of the other guys.

“Then we were stopped and kinda gathered up and started to shoot the s— and asked, ‘Where’s Tony?’ One of the guys (on the dunes) came driving up and said, ‘Hey, one of your buddies is hurt over on the other side of the hill.’

“There was about three of us who went back on our buggies and we came upon him. He was laying there. He got out of it (the sand buggy) and was laying there in the sand on his back.”

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From left, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and Don Prudhomme before they and others including Ray Evernham, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle hit the sand dunes this past Sunday in Southern California. (Photo courtesy Don Prudhomme)

Contrary to media reports, Prudhomme said Stewart did not roll his sand buggy. Rather, Stewart apparently caught air in a jump and landed hard.

“What happens in the dunes, there was kind of a big mound and he flew over it and came down hard on the shocks,” Prudhomme said of Stewart. “In other words, it bottomed itself out. What happened then, it drove the seat up into his ass, basically. It was like, BAM! He hit really hard, but we were running pretty fast.

“We pulled up, asked ‘How you doing, dude?’ He was on the ground and said his back’s hurt. We made sure he could move all his legs and everything, so everything was good there.”

Prudhomme said Evernham took charge of the scene. Gordon, car collector Ron Pratte and Prudhomme provided assistance.

“Ray Evernham is a real good guy, a real responsible guy,” Prudhomme said. “He’s been around situations like this before. Basically we got (Tony) into Ron’s cart and Ron drove him real slowly out of there. (Tony) was holding himself up, as if his ass was real sore.

“Ron has a place in the area, so he had his helicopter fly over and land on this pavement because he couldn’t land on the sand. Tony had his arm around my shoulder and had another arm around Ray’s shoulder and Gordon was holding him up by the belt. He was walking real slow and we got him into the helicopter and laid him in the back seat.

“Ray got in the helicopter to go to the hospital. The pilot said he was going to Palm Springs Hospital and got on the radio. Ray was the best guy for the job, so he went with Tony and looked over Tony until midnight.”

Prudhomme defended Stewart’s driving.

“(Stewart) wasn’t driving reckless or crazy or anything else,” Prudhomme said. “He just happened to hit this (sand) ramp and the way it came down, and it was a lot taller or higher up than he probably realized. And it came down and crashed. We went back to get the car he was driving after he got into the helicopter and just fired that baby up and drove it back to the ranch.

“It wasn’t like it flipped over. I’ve heard people say it flipped over. No, it didn’t flip over, it just came down so hard that it messed his back up.”

Stewart was conscious and alert throughout the entire episode, Prudhomme said.

“He was hurting, and we were all concerned about him,” Prudhomme said. “But he wasn’t like knocked out or anything like that. He was totally coherent, totally everything. It’s just his back was screwed up.

“None of us realized how bad it was. The next day Ron and I went over to the hospital to see him and we sat in the room and he was showing us X-rays and s— and talking. Tony’s Tony. He looked at me like he could just get up and walk out of there, but he couldn’t. But he looked great.”

When asked to describe how Stewart looked in the hospital the day after the wreck, Prudhomme borrowed a page from Stewart’s usual comedic playbook.

“He needed a shave and a bath, I know that!” Prudhomme quipped.

“(Stewart) was great. In fact, we were in the hospital and it didn’t look like he was going to have to be operated on. It was just going to be where they were going to put a support on him. He walked around with the doctor early in the morning with a walker.

“So we told him, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I’ll have to be operated on.’ But apparently when they got him back to Charlotte, these guys, whoever looked at him, felt he needed an operation.

“I just hope he’s going to be alright. He wasn’t doing anything crazy. Those things can run 110 mph pretty easy on the sand. It’s a nice piece of equipment.”

As it turned out, Stewart had traveled a couple of miles in the wrong way, Prudhomme estimated.

When asked about when Stewart was missing, Prudhomme said the three-time Sprint Cup champ was starting to worry if anyone would find him.

“It scared the s— out of us guys,” Prudhomme said. “We were saying that Tony had been missing, and then we’re told Tony’s hurt. It was a ways away from where we were at. We found the trail he was on, went over there, and I said to (Stewart), ‘Dude, how long have you been laying there?’ He said, ‘About an hour-and-a-half.”

But there was a bit of comfort for Stewart, so to speak, Prudhomme added.

“It was the most comfortable place you could lay in the soft sand with a bad back,” he quipped. “In other words, he wasn’t ready to get up. I think he was starting to doze off a little bit (while waiting to be rescued). He just rested there.

“You know Tony, he’s a tough son-of-a-bitch.”

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NASCAR America: The state of Stewart-Haas Racing

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The NASCAR America team talks about the state of Stewart-Haas Racing after Tony Stewart‘s surprising victory at Sonoma.

NASCAR America: Dissecting Stewart’s win at Sonoma

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Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty breakdown Tony Stewart‘s dramatic last-lap win at Sonoma Sunday, his first Sprint Cup win in three years.

Richard Childress, Chip Ganassi among 7 inductees to Motorsports Hall of Fame

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The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America has announced its 2016 class, which will be inducted Wednesday at the 28th Annual MSHFA Induction Ceremony at The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach.

The class, which includes NASCAR owners Richard Childress and Chip Ganassi, is the first to be inducted since the MSHFA moved from Novi, Michigan.  The hall’s new facility is located at Daytona International Speedway’s Ticket and Tours Building and will be open to the public for the first time on Sunday.

Childress’ induction comes after he was also voted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame last month.

Here is the full list and bios of the seven people who are now part of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America

  • Everett Brashear – One of the top AMA dirt-track motorcycle racers of all-time, Brashear won a total of 15 AMA nationals between 1952-1960. After exiting from competition, Brashear immersed himself in other areas of the motorcycle industry, working for Harley-Davidson, Triumph, Yamaha and Kawasaki. In all, he spent 47 years in the industry. Brashear was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1988.
  • Richard Childress – Childress’ remarkable career evolved from being a struggling stock car racer to becoming one of the premier owners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning six championships with 2002 MSHFA inductee Dale Earnhardt (1986, ’87, ’90, ’91, ’93, ’94). Has 14 championships in NASCAR national series competition, second-best all time. His drivers have won the Daytona 500 twice and the Brickyard 400 three times.
  • Gary Gabelich – Gabelich chased speed records on both land and water during a brief but mercurial competitive career for the former Apollo test astronaut. In 1969, Gabelich established a quarter-mile Drag Boat record of 200.44 mph. A year later, driving the “Blue Flame” he set FIA Land Speed Records of 622.407 mph over a flying mile and 630.388 mph over a flying kilometer at the Bonneville Salt Flats. His competitive career ended after a 1972 accident in an experimental Funny Car. He died in 1984 due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
  • Chip Ganassi – Ganassi is the only car owner to have won the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Brickyard 400. Between February 2010 and January 2011, his drivers swept those four events, giving him an unprecedented “Grand Slam” in America’s major auto races. Overall, his teams have won 18 championships and more than 170 races. His open-wheel teams have amassed 11 championships and more than 100 victories – including five in the Indianapolis 500. His NASCAR teams have 17 victories including a Daytona 500 victory, and have twice qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His sports car teams have a record six Rolex 24 At Daytona victories to complement their seven Rolex Sports Car Series championships.
  • Dave McClelland – Known as “The Voice of the NHRA” McClelland is one of the most legendary voices in all of motorsports and certainly the most legendary in the history of drag racing. But his face is very recognizable, too, thanks to his years of NHRA-related work on ESPN, SPEED and The Nashville Network. His background also includes a stint as a race track executive followed by a successful run as NHRA publicity and public relations director. He has been recognized with a number of awards during his career including the 2013 Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award, which is presented annually to pioneers in the hot rod and restoration industry.
  • Sam Posey – Posey has excelled both on the race track and in the broadcast booth, in the process becoming one of this country’s most recognizable and respected motorsports personalities. Posey raced in Can-Am, Trans-Am, Indy Car, sports cars, Formula One and NASCAR competition. He raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 10 times, finishing in the top 10 five times, with a best finish of third in 1971. After leaving competition he became an ABC commentator in 1974 and now works for NBC Sports Network on Formula One coverage and has written numerous well-regarded books and magazine articles on motorsports subjects.
  • Bob Sweikert – Los Angeles native Sweikert had a season for the ages in 1955, winning the Indianapolis 500, the AAA “Big Car” National Championship and the Midwest Sprint Car Championship, becoming the first driver to sweep all three honors in a single season. … Sweikert was the first driver to exceed 100 mph on a one-mile oval track. … His career was halted at the age of 30, his full potential unrealized, when he died in June 1956 after a Sprint Car accident at Salem (Indiana) Speedway. … He was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1994 and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1995.

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart reflects on Sonoma win

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Tony Stewart discusses with NBCSN’s Jim Noble his victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, his first NASCAR win since June 2013.