CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Matt Kenseth looked down the track, fear sweeping over him. His wife had crashed while practicing for a charity race that was supposed to be little more than an easy ride.
"I had a really sick feeling in my gut she was hurt really bad," Kenseth said Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Katie Kenseth broke her shoulder blade when she wrecked the Bandolero car she was driving Monday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 2003 NASCAR champion was at the track coaching his wife. He sprinted down pit road to help her.
He said he had looked away briefly and missed how the accident began. By the time he spotted her on the track, the car was headed right into the wall. He said Katie braked at the last second, causing the car to spin and back into the wall.
"She was aimed head-on into the wall going really fast and it was going to be really, really bad," Kenseth said. "When she crashed I was over 90 percent sure she was hurt because I've never seen a little car crash that hard. So I was really thankful that car spun around."
Charlotte news station WCNC posted several photos on its website of Kenseth aiding his wife, including one in which he appears to be taking off her helmet as she sits inside the cockpit.
"Her neck and everything was fine. ... I knew her arm was hurt," Kenseth said. "If I didn't (take her helmet off), nobody else was going to and I needed to help her out of there. I knew that."
The accident happened during the first of two scheduled practice sessions this week. Katie Kenseth was one of 14 wives and girlfriends committed to racing in the 25-lap "Better Half Dash" charity race before the Oct. 15 Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte.
He said he spoke with his wife about the event for three weeks leading to Monday night's practice, and was "naive" to have believed the Bandolero cars were going to be "slowed up for all the girls." Bandoleros resemble full-bodied go-carts.
He said when he got to the track Monday night and saw the cars, he knew immediately they were bigger and faster than he expected.
"I had a pretty good talk with her and was like, 'OK, be careful,' " Kenseth said. "But the farthest thing from my mind was anybody getting hurt."
Kenseth said his wife's racing career is now over, and she'll need a few weeks to mend. Katie is the primary caregiver to the couple's two young daughters, ages 2 and 7 months, but Kenseth said he did his best to take over Monday night when they returned from the hospital. No fan of the middle-of-the-night feedings for their youngest, Kenseth said he was putting the household on an immediate "sleep boot camp."
He even joked that the accident proved Katie is indeed his better half based on how much concern there was for her throughout the NASCAR community.
"I realized how much more people like Katie than they like me," Kenseth said. "All the texts, emails, it makes me proud of her for who she is."
The Better Half Dash will benefit Motor Racing Outreach and Speedway Children's Charities. Among those listed to compete are the wives of Justin Allgaier, David Gilliland, Casey Mears, Mike Skinner and crew chief Greg Zipadelli.