Sutton makes recovery from yet another crash

Her pursuit of driving at Daytona back in gear

February 07, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

No one knew just how difficult making a dream come true can be.

Kelly Sutton, the 28-year-old with multiple sclerosis who is being sponsored in the Goodies Dash by COPAXONE, the manufacturer of the medication she uses to control the disease, has dreamed since she was a little girl of one day racing at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

If she passes a rookie evaluation that will allow her to attempt to qualify for the Goody's Dash on Saturday, she and her family will have overcome a soap opera-like path of obstacles and traumas.

The front end of her race car was damaged during transport to Daytona for testing last month and had to be repaired, eating up the first practice day at the 2.5-mile oval. Rain wiped out the second, preventing Sutton from her mandatory rookie evaluation.

The good news is that because of the bad weather at the track, NASCAR said rookies could make up their missed evaluations tomorrow.

The bad news is that Sutton's travails continued Jan. 29, when she was nearly run over and the rear end of her race car was damaged when a steel cable broke during unloading in Sutton's Crownsville driveway. The family hurried to get the car in the garage before Maryland's latest ice and snow storm.

During the incident, Sutton, who was beside the car, dived halfway through the window to try to get the car in gear and stop its backward slide. But she got caught between the car and a snow bank and was shaken up when pulled roughly from the car window.

Her dad, Ed, next tried to grab the steering wheel and direct the car into another snow bank, so it wouldn't hit anyone or anything else. But he was too late. The race car slammed into the family car.

Worst of all, Kelly had learned earlier that day that her ex-husband, Eddie Housley, who is still very close to her, had been involved in a hunting accident and was at Maryland Shock Trauma in critical condition with a gunshot wound.

"Saturday night [Jan. 29], it just seemed like an impossible task," said Kelly's mother, Carol, of the family's efforts to help Kelly reach her goal. "We all just sat here in such distress. We just can't take much more but we've regrouped. We're going back to Daytona and we're going to make that race."

Five years ago, it was Kelly, just a few weeks away from her Daytona rookie test, who was in Shock Trauma after her car slid on an icy road and smashed into a tree. And it was Housley who was by her side as she struggled with multiple internal injuries and a major flare-up of the multiple sclerosis, which had been in remission.

Since learning of Housley's accident, Kelly has spent most of her time at Shock Trauma. Housley remains in the critical care unit in stable but critical condition after undergoing a series of surgeries.

"I'm ready to go back to Daytona," Kelly said. "With Eddie being my best friend, this has put a damper on it, but everyone has worked so hard to make my dream come true.

"Even part of the reason for our divorce was so I could follow my dream. So that's what I'm doing. My prayers and love will be with Eddie and his family while I'm in Daytona, but this is what he'd want me to do, too. We're going to Daytona, and we're going to try to put the car on the pole."

Meanwhile, back at Sutton's garage, her mother worries -- "I'm just praying the stress from all this doesn't cause the MS to come back," she said -- while her father and many of their friends work on repairing the damage caused in the unloading of the car.

In the NASCAR safety inspection, the car passed without a hitch, and in the general review, was found to have one minor rules infraction. The windshield was a quarter-inch too wide and will have to be reconfigured.

"Emotionally, we're just drained," said Ed Sutton. "Our cup is full. But we've made a commitment to the company that's sponsoring the car, and we're not giving up. We're fighting the fight."

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