NASCAR driver Tony Stewart had been missing from a group of friends for about 90 minutes Sunday before he was found lying in the sand dunes of southern California with a fractured lower back.
According to NBC Sports, Stewart was on a dune-buggy outing with a group that included current and former racers Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Rusty Wallace, Ray Evernham and Don Prudhomme.
Stewart’s dune buggy landed hard after a jump, causing a burst fracture in his L1 vertebra. The injury will force Stewart, 44, to miss the season-opening Daytona 500 and other Cup races early in the season. No timetable for his return has been announced.
“We were riding these sand rails,” Prudhomme told NBC Sports. “We were all together. What really happened is, it isn’t hard to get split off from one another. In other words, if a guy makes a left turn and you’re not watching his flags or there’s dust or something, you can make a right turn and kind of get lost.
“So, we got mixed up and (Stewart) was probably missing for an hour-and-a-half hour from the pack, at least. We figured maybe he got hooked up with one of the other guys.
“Then we were stopped and kinda gathered up and … asked, ‘Where’s Tony?’ One of the guys (on the dunes) came driving up and said, ‘Hey, one of your buddies is hurt over on the other side of the hill.’
“There was about three of us who went back on our buggies and we came upon him. He was laying there. He got out of (the sand buggy) and was laying there in the sand on his back.
“We pulled up, asked ‘How you doing, dude?’ He was on the ground and said his back’s hurt. We made sure he could move all his legs and everything, so everything was good there.”
Prudhomme, a former drag-racing champion, told NBC Sports that Stewart was alert and able to move. He was taken by helicopter to a local hospital. He was transported to a Charlotte-area hospital Tuesday and had surgery Wednesday.