Last year’s Brickyard 400 featured 14 caution periods for 55 laps, but it was not the only incident-riddled race at Indy. In 1996, a rash of cut tires contributed to five cautions for 21 laps. In one of these, NASCAR America analyst Kyle Petty was fairly sure he’d died.
When his tire rapidly deflated on lap 39 as he ran second to Johnny Benson, Petty shot up the track and pounded the outside wall – careening back into the path of Sterling Marlin. When Marlin’s car made contact with Petty’s, it shoved the left front tire into the engine and caused the throttle to stick – which in turn drove Petty into the inside wall.
“I’m knocked out in that car,” Petty remembered on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “My head’s down in my lap and my arms are down and I can’t move anything. … I just start praying that I’m alive. And I keep trying to move my hands and my legs and I can’t move anything – and I’m praying and I’m praying.
“Finally I realize I can’t move my hands and I can’t move my legs – so I’m not alive. So then I start praying, ‘Please God when I open my eyes, let me be standing at the Pearly Gates.’ And then I hear Sterling talking – and I know if Sterling’s there and I’m dead, we ain’t in heaven.”
Marlin had to tell Petty the rest of the story.
Petty regained consciousness while lying on the ground, strapped to a back board with a neck brace on.
Petty recalled: “They picked me up; I screamed like a girl. They set me down. They picked me up; I screamed like a girl. They set me down. Sterling said, “you quit standing on his ponytail; he’ll quit screaming.’ “
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