Nemechek Aching to Get Behind Wheel


 by Doug Belliveau
July 3, 2001

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Joe Nemechek is ready to get back to the office.
(all photos by Doug Belliveau)

Joe Nemechek will finally get back behind the wheel of the #33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet this week, and not a minute too soon. Since his testing crash in early May, Joe has been recovering from multiple injuries. But being forced to the sideline may have been the most painful part of his experience. 

Taking a break from his schedule, Joe talked about his down time over the past six weeks: "I've never been through anything like this. Yeah, my body hurt. It hurt a lot at times. But watching that Oakwood Homes car going around the racetrack without me driving it hurt a whole lot too. I'm grateful to be here and to be able to even talk about it, and I guess I was pretty grateful to be able to watch on television or watch the car at the track. But it still hurt."

During Nemechek's recovery, Andy Petree selected the trio of Bobby Hamilton, Jr., Wally Dallenbach and Scott Pruett to drive the car. The Lakeland, Florida native explained his forced layoff: "You race all of your life without really being hurt and then something like this. I mean, yeah, maybe you break a rib here or there, but nothing really serious. Then you get really hurt and, well, it slowed me down too much."

Joe says of the no. 33 car, "That car and I have
gotten to be friends, and I've missed it a lot."

During the month and a half after the accident, Nemechek spent the first week trying to stay immobile and beginning the recovery process. But as most racecar drivers can attest, it's tough to sit around for very long when you're used to going 180 mph around a track. "I spent the first week laying around for the most part, just trying to get started on recovering. Then I hobbled around for a week or so. After that, I was able to start working with some weights, and that's when I really started feeling like I was recovering. That's when I started making some progress." It was at this time that Joe realized he had additional problems. "That's also when I started finding other things that I didn't even know had been injured - some muscle stuff here and there, a rotator cuff on my elbow, stuff like that."

Now with his recovery period nearing completion, Nemechek feels as if he's ready to get behind the wheel for the Saturday night race in Daytona. However, the team wanted to make sure that Joe was completely ready, both physically and mentally. "I used the time after Sonoma to start getting reacquainted with the race car, seeing how things were again. I wanted to make sure, too, that everything on me was as good as I thought it was. I wanted to see where I stood on neck strength, and we did some tests just so I get some new miles in. I'm right on schedule to 100 percent again, and feel like I'm fairly close to that now. I don't think much about Dover, just think about getting in the race car again. My mind is set on Daytona and nowhere else."

You can be sure that "Front Row" Joe will come out of the box raring to go on Saturday. His adrenalin will certainly be pumping once again as he takes the green flag in his home state. "It's been a rough few weeks, not just because of the injuries but because of how bad I wanted to drive that Oakwood Homes Chevrolet again. That car and I have gotten to be friends, and I've missed it a lot." 

Contact me at dougb@autoracing1.com

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