Remembering Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s terrifying inferno at Sonoma Raceway

Dale Earnhardt Jr. exits his car following a crash during the Sunday morning warmup for the 2004 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) Infineon Grand Prix of Sonoma.

A driver’s worst fear is fire.

And no one knows that better than Dale Earnhardt Jr., who saw what looked at first like a minor crash turn into a terrifying inferno during a practice session for an American Le Mans Series race at Sonoma Raceway in 2004.

As this SPEED Special Report video shows, Earnhardt Jr. was sitting in his wrecked Chevrolet Corvette when it burst into flames that enveloped his head and torso as he tried to free himself from the burning car.

Although the fire was extinguished relatively quickly, Earnhardt still had to be airlifted to the University of California-Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for treatment of his burns.

Later, Earnhardt Jr. appeared on the television show "60 Minutes," where he told reporter Mike Wallace that his late father helped him out of the burning car.

"I think he had a lot to do with me getting out of that car," Earnhardt Jr. told Wallace. "I don’t want to put some weird, you know, psycho twist on it like he was pulling me out or anything, but he had a lot to do with me getting out of that car. … From the movement I made to unbuckle my belt to lying on the stretcher, I have no idea what happened."

But Earnhardt Jr. definitely felt his father’s touch. "It … freaks me out today just talking about it," Earnhardt Jr. told Wallace. "It just gives me chills."

Us, too, Junior.