A fun weekend of racing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned frightening yesterday when a wreck during a warmup for an American Le Mans Series race turned his car into a fireball, leaving him hospitalized with burns on his face and legs.
Earnhardt's injuries were "moderate-sized burns of moderate intensity," according to medical officials at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. The ALMS said Earnhardt had second-degree burns on the insides of both legs and on his chin.
The NASCAR star, son of the late Dale Earnhardt, was flown to the University of California-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where he was expected to be kept overnight for observation. He will be examined again Monday.
"I'm bummed out and disappointed I couldn't run the race," Earnhardt said through a team spokesman.
Steve Crisp, a spokesman for Dale Earnhardt Inc., said Earnhardt was not badly injured. "They've done the X-rays and there's no bones broken," Crisp said. "He'll be fine."
Still, any crash involving Earnhardt always brings up memories of the last-lap wreck at the 2001 Daytona 500 that killed his father, easily the most popular driver of his era.
Crisp said the younger Earnhardt will compete in next weekend's Nextel Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway. Earnhardt, second in the Cup standings behind Jimmie Johnson, was supposed to be enjoying a weekend off from his regular series for a rare chance to race without pressure.
"These folks are tough," Crisp said. "They bounce back from all kinds of things. He'll be OK. They wanted him to rest comfortably today and they'll send him out tomorrow."
The accident came at the start of the 30-minute morning practice. Earnhardt lost control of his Chevrolet Corvette C5-R, spun and slid backward into a concrete barrier in turn eight of the road racing track.
Officials said the crash broke the fuel filler neck, where the gas is poured into the car, briefly turning the Corvette into a fireball after it came to a stop in the middle of the track. Earnhardt quickly got out of the car on his own before being assisted by safety crews. The car continued to burn and was a total loss.
Earnhardt was to have driven in yesterday's ALMS race with veteran road racing driver Boris Said. The team withdrew the entry from the race after Earnhardt's crash.
Meantime, J.J. Lehto and Marco Werner won their third consecutive ALMS race, taking the Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Lehto and Werner won by one minute in their Audi R8 over Chris Dyson and Andy Wallace in a Lola EX257-AER/MG in the 2-hour 45-minute timed event on the 2.53-mile road racing circuit. Butch Leitzinger and James Weaver rallied to finish third.