Jason Priestley's Close Call

ByABC News
January 30, 2003, 6:21 PM

Jan. 31 -- We know Jason Priestley as the handsome young star of the long-running television show Beverly Hills 90210. Last summer, most of us learned he is also a professional race car driver when he was involved in a serious racing accident.

In an exclusive interview with 20/20's Barbara Walters, Priestley talked for the first time about the crash and his grueling recovery.

Priestley's face was smashed almost beyond recognition. His feet and back were broken. He survived thanks to a highly skilled rescue operation and his own determination to live, but the experience left him a changed man.

Throughout the 1990s, the charismatic 90210 star, who stood out for his boyish charm and sex appeal, led the life most teenage boys fantasize about. Priestley's picture adorned the covers of countless magazines, and posters of him covered teenage girls' bedroom walls.

Last summer, he made the headlines again. This time the news was devastating. Priestley was close to death after the worst crash ever seen on the Kentucky Auto Racing Speedway. When he woke up a day later, he had no idea what had happened. "It was really quite shocking," Priestley said, describing his reaction when he first saw his injuries.

More frightening, Priestley said, was the thought that he might not walk again. He said he thought of Christopher Reeve, and of Sam Schmidt, a racing friend who was paralyzed after an accident. "I was really, really terrified that that was gonna be me."

Priestley knew the dangers of racing; he'd been making at least part of his living racing cars for 10 years. Cars roar around a banked oval track within inches of each other at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour.

A Split Second Changes Star Forever

Early on Aug. 11, 2002, Priestley was making a final practice run before the most important race of his life. During the warm-ups a car had blown its engine, and crews had to put down a "quick-dry" substance to cover up the oil on the track. As Priestley attempted to avoid another driver's car, his wheel hit the substance and he lost control of the car.