MOTOR RACING / BRIAN MURPHY : La Canada's Kendall on the Fast Track to Recovery After Crash

Tommy Kendall is home.

Seven weeks after crashing at Watkins Glen, N.Y., one of the rising stars of auto racing is sounding healthy, happy and on the road to recovery.

"I'm on about a par for these types of injuries," said Kendall, a La Canada resident. "As far as stuff I'm able to do, I'm coming along."

Kendall returned home July 18 after 18 days in Indianapolis, where doctors worked to repair two broken ankles. While at Methodist Hospital there, Kendall received 60 to 70 letters a day and heard from the likes of three-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, among others. A.J. Foyt, whom Kendall has never met, called to offer his private plane for transportation from the crash site to Indianapolis. The plane, however, was not needed.

"I heard from friends and from fellow racers," Kendall said. "And I heard from a lot of people who didn't know me from Adam. Shoot, it made me feel really good."

Kendall, who is still in a wheelchair, said he is occupying most of his time answering the letters and watching rented movies.

"I'm seeing all those movies now that I've wanted to see but never had time to," Kendall said with a chuckle.

Kendall has been doing upper-body workouts four days a week. With casts on both legs from the knee down, he can't put any weight on his feet. He will return to Indianapolis in a week for a checkup and to get his casts changed. There, doctors will make further determinations on the course of his rehabilitation.

Kendall, 25, earned a degree in economics from UCLA last March. "I was starting to think I was about the oldest guy on campus," he said jokingly.

The accident has not discouraged him from keeping up with the world of racing.

"I'm still a fanatical fan," he said. "My schedule on Sundays is pretty much dictated by whatever's on (television)."

Kendall said that his casts will stay on until the end of September, and that doctors have indicated that he might be racing again by next June. Kendall hopes to be back sooner.

"I want to get back in," he said. "I don't hold any grudge against racing. I'm just anxious to get going again."

Add Kendall: The barrier at Watkins Glen International that led to Kendall's misfortune June 30 was the same one that Winston Cup driver J.D. McDuffie crashed into on Sunday. McDuffie died at the scene.

Kendall's accident started talk among track officials that the protective barrier--made up of guard rails and old tires--should be altered. McDuffie's death, according to track officials, probably will bring about action.

"The effort needs to be directed toward keeping the cars from hitting the barriers that hard," Kendall told The Associated Press. "The most drastic is reconfiguring the track, but most people consider that unfeasible."

While they await a long-term solution, track officials are installing a second row of tires to provide a more cushioned effect. But Kendall pointed out that in the world of auto racing, some things never change.

"If you hit any kind of a barrier at the speeds we're doing, that's the problem," he said.

Trivia time: Only three Hobby Stock drivers at Saugus Speedway have started every race this season. Name them.

Breathing room: Lance Hooper of Palmdale put one foot on his gas pedal a week ago at Saugus Speedway to start racing and then took one giant step toward sewing up his first Sportsman points championship.

Hooper's performances in the twin 50-lap races of the double-points Winston 100--he finished second in the first and won the second--inflated his seven-point lead over second-place racer Gary Sigman into a 36-point lead by the end of the night. Four nights of Sportsman racing, including tonight, remain.

"It's not a guarantee," the cautious Hooper, 24, said. "But it's a lot better than where I have been. I'll know for sure the last night, though. I've learned not to count my chickens before they hatch."

Hooper, in just his second year on the track, showed his emotion after winning the second 50-lap race, standing on his car at the start-finish line and pumping his fist to a cheering crowd. He won the overall trophy--a prize standing almost four feet tall--for most points that evening. Hooper said his outburst was the result of some pent-up feelings.

"I was happy, real happy," he said. "There was a lot of pressure coming into this week and it all worked out real well."

Add Hooper: His success last Saturday also thrust him into the national spotlight. Hooper is now 10th in the NASCAR Sunbelt Region points standings. The Sunbelt Region, which includes tracks from California to Florida, is one of the nation's most competitive.

The championship, one of eight to be decided among competitors at NASCAR's 90 weekly sanctioned tracks, is worth nearly $25,000 in postseason awards.

Hooper, who counts seven wins and 14 top-five efforts, is just one of two California racers on the list.

For the record: It was incorrectly reported last week that the Las Vegas stop of the NASCAR Western States Challenge would be raced at Silver State Raceway in Las Vegas. The race will be held at Las Vegas International Raceway.

Add for the record: Just two weeks after you thought Julianne Seeley had become the first woman to win a main event at Saugus Speedway (July 4), it was reported that Lisa Owens had won a main event in 1987.

Now Owens joins Seeley in the back seat.

Former track publicist Lyn Pherigo produced a document recounting a 1979 win in a Street Stock main event by Cindy Dovar of Van Nuys, who drove an Oldsmobile. Dovar started 18th in a field of 24.

Hi, Mom: This Thursday at Saugus Speedway the lights will be on at 7:30 p.m.--but not for racing.

Fox Television will be taping stunts for its new series, "The Ultimate Challenge," which premieres this fall. Hollywood stuntman Spanky Spangler will attempt a 50 m.p.h. jump through a 30-ton pyramid of stacked cars.

Trivia answer: Seeley of Canyon Country (No. 18), Ron Cerven of Lancaster (No. 27) and Kelly Colgan of Shadow Hills (No. 65).

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