Rick Carelli knew he might die when he felt the warm blood flowing from his ears.
''Maybe tomorrow wasn't going to come,'' he thought as he lay in a Memphis hospital last May 8.
But nine months after that horrible crash on the 12th lap of the Memphis 200, Carelli is again racing in NASCAR's truck series. He has recovered from an often fatal type of skull fracture that made him face his greatest fear.
'''Don't let me lose my kids,''' he told his doctors that Saturday afternoon. ''My daughter's birthday is May 10, and there was no way she was going to remember that as the birthday that her dad left.''
Tests showed the bleeding was from a ruptured blood vessel in his sinus cavity. Before doctors got a chance to fix it, something happened that Carelli will never forget.
''I remember my wife and pastor Jim Lanning praying over me, and the blood just stopped,'' he said.
He would live to again hug wife Cathy, and children Bryan, Dominic and Calissa. End of story?
Not quite. Soon, the Carellis were out of work. Marshall Chesrown, a family friend, decided to fold the team.
''In Marshall's defense, a couple of days into the hospital stay, he turned to me and said, 'I don't ever want him in a race car again,''' said Cathy Carelli, who managed the team. ''It was a personal decision.''
Her 45-year-old husband took it hard because he was nearing the end of his recuperation when Chesrown pulled out in July. The Carellis also were buying a new house near Denver.
That was difficult to deal with, but Rick Carelli had other problems to overcome. He had double vision. Ear surgery was needed to restore his equilibrium and allow him to fly, and he had to adjust to some strange feelings.
''I couldn't stand to take a shower because of the sound with all the fluid that was in my head,'' he said.
The fluid eventually drained out, but his eyesight remained a problem.
''Then one day I looked in the mirror and saw both eyes looking back,'' he said.
The driver from Arvada, Colo., could see that it was time to return to racing. Now, all he needed was a job.
He found one in September. Davy Lee Liniger, whose RE/MAX company had sponsored Chesrown's team, hired Carelli to manage his NASCAR Winston West Series and Featherlite Southwest teams. Then Phelon Motorsports supplied a Ford for the truck series after Carelli tested in November.
Carelli returned to racing earlier this month, driving a stock car owned by high school classmate Ed Belec, and led every lap while winning at the Copper World Classic in Avondale, Ariz. He beat Winston Cup star Ken Schrader, among others.
Back was the elation Carelli felt while winning Winston West and Featherlite titles and three races on the Craftsman Truck circuit. Winning a race with Schrader in the field made it even better.
''He's a special person,'' Carelli said.
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