NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ One moment Steve Millen was racing for a win. The next he was fearing for his life.

Approaching Road Atlanta's infamous ``Dip'' at nearly 170 mph, Millen's Nissan 300ZX was being passed by the Ferrari 333SP World Sports Car of Freddy Lienhard when the cars touched.

Both were sent rocketing off the track into one of the red Georgia clay embankments that line the road circuit.

Moments later, Millen was shown on the track's closed-circuit television sitting near his battered car, helmet off. It appeared a harmless enough situation, but the minutes immediately following the crash were agonizing for the 1994 IMSA Exxon Supreme GT driving champion.

``When I pulled my helmet off, I realized that blood was coming from my ears, which usually indicates a skull injury,'' said Millen, who had a similar injury in a 1993 crash at Watkins Glen, N.Y. ``What I didn't realize at the time was that just pulling my helmet off could have killed me right on the spot.''

Millen was right about the fractured skull, but he also had a broken C2 vertebrae, a similar injury to one that has paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve.

Millen's crash took place April 30. After nearly a week in an Atlanta hospital, Millen returned to his home in Newport Beach, Calif., to begin an arduous recovery process. Forced to wear a steel halo device to stabilize his head and neck, Millen began to realize the implications of the accident, including the fact that he would not be able to defend his 1994 driving championship.

``At first, it was just as mentally difficult as it was physically,'' he said. ``All I could think about was, how could this happen to me again?''

Now, more than halfway through the recovery process, Millen has settled into a daily routine which sees him at his Steve Millen Sport Parts business in Costa Mesa, Calif., most of the time.

The biggest problem has been the way the halo has cut down on his usually fast-paced lifestyle.

``It's difficult for people to understand just how much this takes away from what I have to do just to get through the day _ everything is a struggle,'' Millen said. ``Sleep is difficult. I can't shower. I've had to grow a beard because I can't shave. I can't put on my own shirt, and it's just a bear to wash my hair.''

The halo is expected to come off soon, and Millen said he wants to be back in his race car by the end of the season.

``Although I have taken walks and worked out lightly with weights, I'm looking forward to getting back into a solid physical fitness program,'' he said. ``Considering the severity of the impact and the length of my recovery, I'm very grateful that I kept myself in shape before the accident. Most people have no idea how very fit you have to be to drive a race car.

``These past months have been much easier because of the incredible outpouring of support that has been extended to me from the fans as well as other drivers and IMSA officials,'' Millen said. ``I'm looking forward to the day in the near future when I return to the track, walk up to them and give them a `thank you' in person. As much as anything else, that scenario is going to be the motivating force for my return.''

End Adv for Thursday July 27