Nancy Andretti didn't need much time to see the downside of marrying a race driver.
In 1987, she and husband John were on their honeymoon in California, where he drove a sprint car at Ascot Park Speedway, a dirt track in Gardena. This was no romantic getaway, but it was an unforgettable night.
"He flipped a few times down the straightaway," Nancy recalled. "I was in the infield watching and he did it right in front of me.
"He didn't get hurt."
But drivers are sometimes killed. Adam Petty, the grandson of racing great Richard Petty, and Kenny Irwin died this season in crashes during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.
The drivers were killed eight weeks apart in the same spot -- Turn 3 -- on the 1.058-mile oval. Stuck throttles are widely believed to be responsible, although NASCAR is still trying to determine the cause of the crashes that have had a deep impact on the racing community.
"I was shocked," said Nancy, whose husband drives the No. 43 car for Petty Enterprises. "You look at those statistics and that's not going to happen for a long, long time. I never thought it could happen so close together. ... It can happen."
There have been seven on-track driver deaths in NASCAR since 1991. While engineering improvements -- roll cages, roof flaps and inner-liner tires -- have made the cars safer, there's only so much a body can take slamming at 150 mph or more into a concrete wall.
Winston Cup star Rusty Wallace likes the idea of using foam barriers, especially at relatively flat tracks like New Hampshire. Barriers, by design, would soften the impact. But some worry that debris from the barriers would spew over the track, causing problems for other drivers.
Heeding the concerns of drivers like Wallace, NASCAR senior vice president Mike Helton said there are several options under consideration.
"It is an evolutionary process and we'll continue to speak with the developers to determine the best way to handle it," he said.
NASCAR now requires devices to prevent throttles from sticking and on-off switches on the steering wheels within reach of the driver's thumb.
Still, the sport will continue to scare some.
"I know women who can't handle it," Nancy Andretti says. "There are no preconceptions; no pie in the sky.
"This is what he does, what he loves."
Michael Waltrip's wife, Buffy, has her way of coping with the inevitable dangers of racing.
"There's no good explanation why one wreck hurts somebody and another doesn't," she said. "When it's your turn, it's your time. That's how I have to live or I'd have 20 ulcers."
Nancy Andretti recalled when her husband's car caught fire at Texas Motor Speedway. Like most wives at the track, she listens to her husband's conversations with his crew and would have known if he was in great danger.
"He'll say something right away to let me know he's OK because he knows I'm listening," she said.
Sometimes, NASCAR families must draw on faith and strength gained from dealing over the years with the tragedies of a dangerous sport.
"We always go to chapel," Nancy Andretti says about a race-morning ritual for drivers and their families. "I pray to myself. The kids will pray for a safe race, and that helps."
Rick Carelli, nearly killed in a bad wreck last year on the NASCAR truck circuit, has reason to believe prayer works.
"I remember my wife and pastor Jim Lanning praying over me, and the blood just stopped," he said.
Still, the head injury cost him his ride: Fear for Carelli's life caused family friend Marshall Chesrown to fold the team.
"He turned to me and said, 'I don't ever want him in a race car again,"' said Cathy Carelli, the driver's wife.
On the Net:
NASCAR Winston Cup
1. Bobby Labonte, 3,165.
2. Dale Jarrett, 2,064.
3. Dale Earnhardt, 2,948.
4. Jeff Burton, 2,944.
5. Tony Stewart, 2,845.
6. Rusty Wallace, 2,798.
7. Ward Burton, 2,711.
8. Ricky Rudd, 2,708.
9. Mark Martin, 2,696.
10. Jeff Gordon, 2,676.
11. Matt Kenseth, 2,447.
12. Mike Skinner, 2,429.
13. Steve Park, 2,236.
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,235.
15. Bill Elliott, 2,231.
16. Johnny Benson, 2,168.
17. Ken Schrader, 2,157.
18. Joe Nemechek, 2,127.
19. Chad Little, 2,110.
20. Terry Labonte, 2,082.
21. Sterling Marlin, 2,067.
22. Jeremy Mayfield, 2,030.
23. Robert Pressley, 1,943.
24. Jimmy Spencer, 1,914.
25. Jerry Nadeau, 1,891.
26. John Andretti, 1,882.
27. Michael Waltrtip, 1,829.
28. Kevin Lepage, 1,747.
29. Kenny Wallace, 1,736.
30. Bobby Hamilton, 1,675.
31. Elliott Sadler, 1,619.
32. Dave Blaney, 1,526.
33. Kenny Irwin, 1,440.
34. Wally Dallenbach Jr., 1,411.
35. Stacy Compton, 1,381.
36. Darrell Waltrip, 1,311.
37. Kyle Petty, 1,274.
38. Rick Mast, 1,131.
39. Brett Bodine, 1,169.
40. Scott Pruett, 1,154.
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