Park talked to the press last week at Atlanta, and was
excited about his pending return to racing.
This weekend in Darlington, Steve Park returns to pilot the #1 Pennzoil Chevrolet for the running of the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 on
March 17. Park has been out of his DEI ride since suffering a head injury last September in the Busch series race at Darlington.
Last Sunday in Atlanta where Steve showed up to give moral support to Kenny Wallace who's been subbing for Park in his absence, Steve appeared before the media to talk about his absence, his recovery and his return to Winston Cup racing. The following are some highlights of Steve's comments and answers to questions posed by the media.
Q: What are your feelings about returning to Darlington, the track where you were injured, to race again?
Park: I feel great about it. I've been back there to test and did fine. Everybody wants to know how'd you feel going through turn two (where park was injured) and I have no ill effects at all. I mean to go back and race there just felt terrific. We turned good competitive lap times and I'm just looking forward to coming back and even though I can't talk, I let my right foot do my talking for me (Steves only remaining effects from his brain injury is a slightly slurred speech which seemed to improve as the interview went on).
Q: Have the other drivers expressed good wishes to you about coming back?
Park: Yeah, they have, guys like Kyle Petty who was here earlier and Jeff Burton have all expressed good wishes, but the main thing for me is getting back on the race track and I tested last week with Jeff and afterward I asked him to make sure I could race side by side with him and not make him nervous and he said yeah man, you're doing a great job and that's all I can ask for. I also had the opportunity to go to Charlotte with my teammates Kenny and
Junior and Michael and race with them and we raced wheel to wheel and side by side and it didn't do nothing to make them nervous so, I mean it feels good
for me to be able to do that. To come back to a place like Darlington and qualify good and race good, I mean that's my number one concern. We're not going there just to fill the field up, I mean we're going there to qualify on the pole and win. That's why I've waited so long to come back because I want to be able to get to the point where I could come back and race to win.
Q: There are easier places to make a comeback aren't there?
Park: Well we know that and that's why we went there to test so extensively to make sure my stamina was where it needed to be and it is tough but I've earned my stripes there racing and I've tested there well and you know the next week is Bristol and it doesn't get any easier after that. But to come back to Darlington and race is cool.
Q: What have your doctors told you, I mean are there any concerns at all about your health and abilities?
Park: Well the one thing we were concerned about was whether or not I would be prone to re-injury, and the doctors said that I am not. I mean if I spin out and crash, I could get a concussion just like the next guy out there but the main point was to heal up to where I was at a point where I wouldn't be prone to re-injury and we've done that.
Q: When did you get the word from the doctors that you were okay to race again?
Park: last Thursday (March 7th), we ran over 600 laps at Darlington and were tested to make sure there were no ill effects from going in a circle all that time and we passed the test and got the Doctors approval and then got NASCAR's approval.
Q: What are your goals for the remainder of the season since it's mathematically impossible to win a championship now?
Park: Well since that is true mathematically what we want to do is come back and race competitively and win poles and win as many races as we can and that's our focus for right now.
Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Ernie Ervin and Ricky Craven about what they went through?
Park: Yeah I have and honestly they suffered a lot worse injury than what I did. The only lingering effect that I have is the speech lagging a little and the doctor's say that will come back to me. They had dizziness and vertigo and fortunately we've had none of that and the speech thing doesn't hinder my performance behind the wheel of a racecar so like I said, I'll let my right foot do the talking!
Q: There've been a lot of changes to the race car while you were gone, how does the car feel to you now?
Park: Well we didn't just go to test me we went to do an all out test on my performance and the performance of the racecar. We put it in full race trim, I mean shocks, springs, tires, engine, everything and I mean we feel like we can qualify well and we're very confident we can race well. The first race back is just that, it's the first race. These other guys have four races under their belts so I mean the point's championship might be out of our reach but I don't think a win is.
Q: What kind of workout routine have you been doing and are you ready to drive a full race.
Park: Well, I can run ten miles so I don't think I'll get worn out behind the wheel of a racecar, but I mean it's the focus on the race and the attention span and performing pit stops and everything so the only way to answer that is by doing it. We've done everything we can do to prepare but you just don't know everything till you just get in the car and do it. I've been getting behind the wheel of a go-cart three days a week and going to the gym everyday just to try and build that stamina and focus and everything that I think I'll need behind the wheel of the cup car.
Q: Do you feel like you have anything to prove to the rest of the drivers out there?
Park: No, I don't think I have anything to prove to anyone but myself, I mean I could win races and poles before I left and I wont stop until I'm back to doing that again.
Q: Was there ever a time when you wondered if you would be able to come back?
Park: Well yeah, I mean it was mostly the vision thing, at first I had double vision down low and then in a week that cleared up but then it was like the vision as a whole was off. At that point we got glasses and that helped at first but in a short time even that didn't help. I mean it's easy to get depressed about something like that but the whole time the doctors said in time it would go away and the whole progression of getting better and better is what's kept my spirits up and made me get back behind the wheel.
Q: Is your comfort level getting back in the car any greater with all the changes in the safety rules concerning belts, HANS etc.?
Park: Well you know we got hurt in the Busch car and I didn't have the safety devices that were available at that time. But in the Pennzoil car I have everything. So It's kind of hard to look back and second guess yourself but it's probably why I put my Busch racing on hold because unfortunately I got hurt in that car and it took away from my Pennzoil car and our main focus is getting back to racing it and winning. We messed around and got hurt in the Busch car, it's a tough way to learn your lesson but from now on we're going to concentrate on the Pennzoil car and not take all the safety devices we have in that car for granted.
That concludes the live interview with Steve Park. Park has participated in extensive testing with Dale Earnhardt, Inc. since the beginning of the year, including a full two-day test march 5-6 at Darlington Raceway. He previously tested at Charlotte and at Atlanta.
In 114 Winston Cup starts, Park has accumulated two wins, 9 top fives, and 28 top tens. He was 10th in points in the WC point standings at the time of his injury last September.
Pennzoil has sponsored Steve since his debut with DEI in 1998.James J.Postl, the President and CEO of Pennzoil Quaker Co., plans to attend the race at Darlington to welcome Park back personally.
Steve wishes to convey his thanks to all the fans who have followed his career and his recovery and for all their good wishes and thoughts and prayers.
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