Race car drivers are a rare breed. After a major, debilitating accident, the first question you'll typically hear from them is "when can I get back behind the wheel?" Jalopnik readers found the ten most unbelievable stories where drivers came back to the winning circle from haunting accidents.

Welcome back to Answers of the Day — our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers.

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10.) Don Garlits

Suggested By: Jimal is going back to his screen name

Why it's remarkable: Don Garlits lost a part of his right foot when the transmission on his dragster exploded in 1970. By 1971 he was back drag racing, but this time with the engine behind him in the dragster — an innovation that few thought would work. Garlits went on to win so many races that his new layout became the norm rather than the exception.

9.) Ricky James

Suggested By: Demon-Xanth

Why it's remarkable: In 2005, Ricky James was in a motocross accident that broke his back and left him paralyzed, seemingly confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Apparently unsatisfied with this result, James returned to motocross on the exact same bike he crashed on, albeit modified with hand controls he had designed. Then he trained for and completed the 140-mile Ironman challenge, and decided to pick up off-road truck racing, finishing on the podium in 9 out of 12 races in his rookie year.

8.) Ari Vatanen

Suggested By: mers

Why it's remarkable: Vatanen won the 1981 World Rally Championship with his audacious and dangerous style. In 1985 that caught up to him and he suffered a rather horrendous crash in Argentina, leaving him with multiple broken ribs and vertebrae, not to mention a broken ankle and knee. He became depressed, feared he had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion, and faced countless other complications. However, with the help of his wife and Jean Todt, Vatanen he went on to not only continue racing but to win both Pikes Peak and the Paris-Dakar rally.

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7.) Michael Johnson

Suggested By: Jimal is going back to his screen name

Why it's remarkable: Reader Jimal describes how one dirt track racer didn't quit after being paralyzed from the waist down. He just went from two wheels to four so he could take advantage of hand controls.

I'm going to skip the more famous comeback stories and drop the name of a kid I know. Michael Johnson was a young, successful dirt track motorcycle racer until a crash in 2005 left him paralyzed from the waist down. After recovering from his injuries, his father purchased him a kart equipped with hand controls designed for Alex Zanardi and Michael went from there.

Karting turned into cars with the Skip Barber Race Series and this weekend Michael will be wrapping up his first season is USF2000, where he's scored five Top 15 finishes in 12 races (where car counts can reach into the high 20's or low 30's) while continuing to develop the unique hand control system he and his team has developed.

The kid is an inspiration.

Photo Credit: Michael Johnson

6.) Juan Manuel Fangio

Suggested By: MechaScroggzilla

Why it's remarkable: Michael Schumacher won the Formula 1 Driver's Championship five times in a row from 2000-2004, part of the seven-times-world-champion career that makes him "statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen." Juan Manuel Fangio only won the same championship four times in a row, from 1954-1957, and that was after he broke his neck driving at Monza in 1952. He didn't waste 1953 recuperating; the year after his crash he came second in the Driver's Championship. Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story.

5.) Doug Henry

Suggested By: Marimvibe's curtain call

Why it's remarkable: Reader jwronski describes how outdoor motorcross rider Doug Henry broke his back, recovered, broke his wrists, and recovered again to win the 1998 championship.

In 1995 at Budds Creek, MD, Doug Henry inadvertently overshot a downhill jump, falling from 80 feet in the air, and crushed 7 vertebrae. Initially after the crash, doctors told him he would never race again. He refused to accept this, and his wife found a team of doctors from D.C. to perform what was an experimental surgery at the time. The team of doctors built a titanium cage in his back, and grafted the crushed vertebrae to it. He was back racing in 1996. In 1997, mere feet from the jump that broke his back, he crashed breaking both of his wrists. He returned in 1998 riding the production version of the Yamaha YZ400F, the bike that started the 4-stroke craze that has swept through motocross, and claimed the 1998 Outdoor Motocross Championship.

4.) A.J. Foyt

Suggested By: racer147

Why it's remarkable: Foyt's brakes failed during a 1965 race at Riverside International Speedway, and he left the track at over 100 mph. His car flipped so violently that the track doctor pronounced him dead at the scene.


Having cheated death would be a comeback enough for most people, but Foyt recovered from his broken back, ankle, and chest injuries to go on and win both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

3.) Race 2 Recovery

Suggested By: Kiwi_Commander_likes_underscores_Y_E_A_H_

Why it's remarkable: Race 2 Recovery is a team of injured soldiers — many amputees — that have learned to drive modified Land Rovers across challenging terrain at very high speeds, competing in off-roading events around the UK. That in itself is impressive, but they're not stopping there. The team is headed to the 2013 Dakar Rally, where they'll have factory sponsorship from Land Rover.

Photo Credit: Race 2 Recovery

2.) Alex Zanardi

Suggested By: Won't the real Ash78 please sign in, please sign in, please sign in

Why it's remarkable: Zanardi was a well-established CART racer and former F1 driver when he suffered a horrific accident at the Lausitzring in 2001. Leading the race, Zanardi left the pits but spun and was struck by another car, essentially cutting his car in half. He lost both of his legs and three quarters of his blood, but somehow managed to survive. He returned to racing, this time in touring cars, and learned to drive an F1 car again.


Instead of sticking to what he knew, he began training on handcycle casually and won 4th place in the New York City Marathon. When he decided to really devote himself to handcycling, he ended up winning two gold medals and a silver at this year's Paralympic Games in London.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

1.) Niki Lauda

Suggested By: Kate's Dirty Sister

Why it's remarkable: In 1976, Niki Lauda crashed his Ferrari on the Nurburgring, and it burst into flames. Unable to escape, he suffered severe burns and inhaled toxic fumes that damaged his lungs and poisoned his blood. Lauda went into a coma, and when he came out he got just enough reconstructive surgery to be able to use his eyes again, and nothing more. How much time did this crash, coma, and surgery cost him? Two races.


He returned to Formula 1 in the same season and maintained his lead in the championship standings until the final race, where he withdrew because his damaged eyes couldn't see, and ended up losing the title to James Hunt by 1 point.

Photo Credit: Getty Images