CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Inside Geoffrey Bodine's racing shop lies a twisted mass of metal, a reminder of how close he came to death.
He survived a terrifying crash at Daytona that turned what once was a $100,000 race truck into a worthless pile of charred junk. But Bodine sees that heap as a testament to his belief in prayer.
''It certainly wasn't luck at Daytona that I survived -- it was just the grace of God that saved me,'' the 51 year-old driver said. ''If anyone saw the wreck or saw the remains of the vehicle after the wreck, you'll understand.
''It was truly God's hands that reached down that day and saved me.''
Somehow, Bodine was not seriously hurt in the 13-truck crash during the Daytona 250 on Feb. 18. His truck was pinched against the outside wall, became airborne and burst into flames as it barrel-rolled and took out about 150 feet of safety fence.
But the support cables held as the disintegrating truck came perilously close to entering the grandstand. Nine spectators, five of whom were treated at a hospital, were injured by flying debris. Driver Jimmy Kitchens also was slightly injured in the crash.
Bodine's problems were just beginning as he landed back on the asphalt. Twice, trucks hit him, creating another fireball each time.
''It was horrifying because we all knew that he was dead,'' said Lisa Cox, Bodine's assistant. ''Guys were sitting there crying. We were just sure there was no way he could have survived.''
But he did, with a concussion, and breaks of a wrist, ankle and vertebrae.
Like Cox, watching on TV with other employees in Bodine's Charlotte shop, the driver's girlfriend, Angela Crawford, expected the worst as she watched at the track.
''It was silence everywhere, in the garage and in the grandstands, just silence,'' she said. ''And the looks on people's faces -- it was like we were living his death.''
Bodine thought he was dead, too.
Once, during a crash at Watkins Glen International in the 1980s, Bodine said he saw his life flash in front of him. This time, he insists he spoke to his dead father as the truck cartwheeled down the track.
''If you don't believe me, that's fine, but I swear I saw my father,'' Bodine said. ''He was at the end of a brightly lit area, a tunnel, and he was very clear and very happy and like my father used to look.
''When I saw him I told him I was coming to see him, and he said, 'No, it's not time. You have more to do.' And then he disappeared, and the accident was over.''
Bodine believes the wreck was a response to his prayers in the weeks before the race when he asked God to help him lead people into stronger faith. If nothing else, he claims to be living proof that prayer can save and heal.
''It all happened for a reason,'' he said. ''From me telling my story, someone else can believe that God is truly the only one thing that can save you.''
It took Bodine about 2 1/2 months to heal and get back on the track. He returned two weeks ago in Richmond, Va., qualified fourth and was running well during a Winston Cup race. But heat and humidity forced him out of the car, and his younger brother, Todd, finished up.
His family never doubted that Geoffrey would return.
''Not once did we think about him possibly retiring,'' said Brett, another brother, and with Geoffrey a regular on the Winston Cup circuit. ''That night at the hospital we were looking for the best doctors and trying to make the best decisions to get him back racing as soon as possible.''
As difficult as it is for Crawford, she won't ask him to give up racing.
''I'm really scared,'' she said. ''But I know that this is his life. His first instinct is to race. I never once doubted that he would get back in a car.''
For Bodine, the track is the only place he can truly heal.
''This is where I'm supposed to be, where I've been for 46 years of my life,'' he said. ''This is natural. Staying home would be abnormal.''
On the Net:
Geoffrey Bodine: http://www.geoffbodinefanclub.com/
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