The Last Lap: The Empty Parking Spot Next to Mine

When a driver steps into his car, he knows, but doesn't necessarily believe, that accidents happen. That's true of any athlete entering his arena. He approaches his task confidently, understanding its risks, eyeing its rewards. What may cause awe or fear in others is, for the professional athlete, eased by the mundane ritual that accompanies the job, and an obligatory nod at danger. We all accept that.

There are moments, though, when it takes more than a nod to acknowledge danger. In February 1994, Neil Bonnett died on a practice run a week before the Daytona 500. Neil was a good...

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