‘90210’ alum Priestley injured

SPARTA, Ky. – Actor Jason Priestley’s race car crashed head-on into a wall at nearly 180 mph Sunday at the Kentucky Speedway, breaking his back and leaving him in serious condition with a head injury.

The former Beverly Hills 90210 television star was flown to the University of Kentucky Medical Center with a spinal fracture in the middle of his back and a closed head injury, as well as broken bones in both feet, Indy Racing League medical director Henry Bock said.

Bock did not elaborate on the extent of the head injury.

Priestley, 32, crashed coming out of the second turn in the final practice for the Kentucky 100, an Infiniti Pro Series race.

“He got sideways, and he corrected, and then shot off the track,” said former Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, whose son, Arie Jr., competes with Priestley in the Infiniti Pro Series, an IRL developmental series.

“He turned right into the wall, and his first impact was basically head-on,” Luyendyk said. “I saw it from the top of the roof. What I’m thinking is that’s really the one big hit that he took that might have hurt him.”

Luyendyk said Priestley appeared to have driven through “oil-dry,” an absorbent material that had been spread on part of the track about 10 minutes earlier to soak up oil from another car.

All the drivers had been warned to avoid it, IRL vice president Fred Nation said.

Priestley began racing in 1991 in the California Rally Series and won his first race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1998.

Last season, he was a broadcast analyst for the IRL series, and this year, he joined the Kelley Racing team in the new Infiniti Pro Series, a developmental circuit with open-wheel cars that are similar but smaller and less powerful than the IRL cars.

After a strong qualifying run on Saturday, in which he came in second, Priestley had said that confidence was a key to racing.

“With these cars, so much of it is just being able to keep your foot in it and understand that the car actually will hold the road,” he said. “I guess in a lot of ways most oval drivers at some time just put their faith in a higher power that they’re actually going to make it around the corner.”

“He’s shown he’s a good racer,” driver Ed Carpenter said after the crash. “It’s sad anytime one of our competitors gets hurt.”

Priestley has been in crashes before. In April, he crashed a powerboat during a race in Miami, leaving one crew member with cracked ribs. In 1995, he crashed into a ditch during the Michelin SCCA Pro Rally in Olympia, Wash., but recovered to finish the race.

Last year, he completed an alcohol counseling program he was ordered to attend when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from a December 1999 car crash in the Hollywood Hills. The accident totaled Priestley’s Porsche and broke a friend’s arm.

Priestley, a native of British Columbia, became a TV heartthrob starring with Luke Perry, Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth in the Fox network’s Beverly Hills 90210, which ran from 1990 to 2000.

He was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards and produced and directed a number of documentaries, television dramas, cable network specials and music videos. His film credits include Eye of the Beholder, Calendar Girl and Love and Death on Long Island.

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