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N.C. Governor OK After Race Car Crash

May 9, 2003

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ Only Gov. Mike Easley’s ego was bruised Friday when he lost control of a Winston Cup stock car he was driving for charity and hit a foam-covered wall at Lowe’s Motor Speedway at 120 mph.

``Just wait until the state troopers (who provide Easley’s security) hear about this,″ a smiling Easley told speedway President H.A. ``Humpy″ Wheeler after he took a few more laps in another race car. ``They’ll probably call me ‘Slick’ or ‘Speedy.’ ``

Wheeler was thinking of someone else’s reaction to the crash.

``I’m just glad you have to explain it to you’re wife and not me,″ he told Easley.

Easley _ who has driven race cars at the track before without incident _ was driving the No. 48 car of Jimmie Johnson when the car hit the inside retaining wall while exiting Turn 2 around 11:45 a.m.

By 1 p.m., Easley was driving again, this time in Terry Labonte’s No. 5 car. He drove six laps at an average of 162 mph before leaving for Raleigh in a sedan driven by aide.

``I am fine. They strapped me in good and tight here and the Hendrick car is a good car,″ Easley said, describing himself as ``a little embarrassed″ but otherwise OK.

Asked how he felt physically, he quipped: ``I do have a bruised ego.″

Wheeler estimated the governor was averaging 165.8 mph but was driving 120 mph when he hit the hit an inside retaining wall that is protected with plastic foam to absorb impact. Easley was driving a Winston Cup car that Johnson provides for promotional events.

``You’re not a real race car driver until you hit the wall. Now he’s a real driver,″ Wheeler said.

Easley was driving Johnson’s Chevrolet, owned by Hendrick Motorsports, to get practice for laps he will run next week as part of The Winston all-star event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

``It was fun for about four or five laps, but the last part wasn’t too good,″ said Easley, who was wearing the HANS device, a head-and-neck restraint system mandated by NASCAR in October 2001. ``I was pushing and the car was running tight and it got loose on me and I wrecked.″

He said the back of the car ``spun out like you do on ice and you didn’t have enough room to turn out,″ causing the back to hit the soft wall once.

After the wreck, Easley stood by the car joking with his staff and track officials and even autographed the crumpled car before it was towed away.

Track spokesman Jerry Gappens said Easley was examined by the speedway’s medical staff and was fine.

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