Swervin' Ernie Irvan will ride no more on the high banks of NASCAR.
Citing the desire to live a productive life in the wake of two head injuries, Irvan retired Friday after 13 seasons on the Winston Cup circuit.
"The doctors didn't tell me I had to," said the 40-year-old Californian, his wife and two small children seated at his side during an emotional news conference at Darlington Raceway. "I made the decision on my own."
"They haven't told me I won't survive again, but that I've been lucky to do what I've been able to do."
Irvan, who got his nickname during a period of rough driving tactics that led to a pre-race national TV apology to other drivers several years ago, is recovering from a second head injury in five years. The first nearly killed him.
He tried to make light of the bangs on the head, saying people frequently wondered what he was talking about and sometimes questioned his approach to the sport.
"Normally, I have something up my sleeve," he said hoping to break the tension with a laugh. "But today, I don't. I'm retiring."
Irvan said doctors who have been treating him since his latest crash, Aug. 20, at Michigan Speedway, told him he was fortunate to be able to live a quality life. He said driving his daughter to school is like a dividend, and helped him make his decision on Thursday.
"They said another accident like the one I had earlier probably would be detrimental to me living a wholesome life," Irvan said. "It's something that brings tears to my eyes to know I'm never going to drive a Winston Cup car again."
He crashed during a practice session for a Busch Series race, sustaining head and lung injuries. He spent several days in a Michigan hospital, then returned to his farm in Mooresville, N.C., to continue his recovery.
The accident happened five years to the day after a near-fatal wreck on the same 2-mile superspeedway. Irvan lingered near death after the 1994 crash, at first given only a 10 percent chance of survival.
But he recovered, and 14 months later resumed a once-promising career that included a victory in the 1991 Daytona 500, the world's premier stock car race.
"I think some people are surprised that I'm still able to comprehend all this," Irvan said. "So, I think retiring now is the smartest thing I can do."
His wife, Kim, had no argument with that.
"He's like a cat with nine lives," she said, then began to cry. "He's used up eight of those."
Irvan has driven in the Winston Cup series since 1987, getting his first victorfor Morgan-McClure Racing in 1990. He had seven of his 15 career victories for that team, then moved to Robert Yates Racing late in 1993 after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash.
Irvan became a fan favorite in part because the No. Ford 28 had been driven by several Hall of Famers. Yates did not renew Irvan's contract at the end of the 1997 season, and the driver moved to MBII Motorsports, with whom he recently agreed to a contract extension through the end of 2000.
Although Irvan didn't win in two seasons with MBII, his popularity grew with fans as a result of slick marketing by his sponsor. Children were excited by the paint schemes on his cars, especially that of M&M's, which includes comic-strip-like candy pieces all over the No. 36 Pontiac.
After the first Michigan accident, Irvan never really regained his form. He had three more victories for Yates, the most recent his only career win at Michigan.
"That was a big moment for me, because I almost died at that track," Irvan said.
Irvan had five top-10 finishes this season, his best sixth in the Las Vegas 400. He made 313 starts, had 22 poles and 68 top-five finishes.
He also is co-owner of Irvan-Simo Motorsports, which has fielded entries in NASCAR's Truck, Grand National and Winston Cup series. He intends to continue as an owner.
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