For those who know Phil White well, it was seemingly a miracle to see him at Atlanta Motor Speedway for this past week's Friday Night Drags presented by ACDelco.
White had been a mainstay at Friday Night Drags since Atlanta Motor Speedway's first drag event three years ago. But, White became unusually absent from Atlanta Motor Speedway's eighth-mile drag strip after appearing at the first few events of the 2008 season.
After White's wife Mitzi fainted one evening, the pair was hoping for positive news at the hospital. What the doctor found was a brain aneurysm.
"It was a shock," said White, an air traffic controller from Peachtree City. "It set me back a bit to hear that. We had a family member die in the past year with an aneurysm. You almost always associate an aneurysm with death, so it really hit home."
After racing his yellow and black replica 1965 Shelby Cobra at Atlanta Motor Speedway for three years, his hobby was instantly insignificant in comparison to his wife's health issues. Her aneurysm, located treacherously under her frontal lobe near two major supply veins, led the White's to seek the best in medical care, first leading the couple to Emory University in Atlanta before traveling to a Mayo Clinic in Florida.
Suffering from swelling after fainting and hitting her head, Mitzi was released from the Mayo Clinic and advised to relax, let the swelling subdue and return for a later follow-up visit when surgery would likely be necessary. The doctor also advised to rush to emergency care at the slightest sign of significant pain.
While the physical pain never struck, when Mitzi returned for a July follow up, the aneurysm was remarkably swollen, requiring urgent surgery. And when the doctors went to perform the surgery, the aneurysm burst, complicating matters.
"It was the good Lord's way of testing what you're made of. The doctor called her a ‘one-percenter'," said White, describing his wife's survival chances. "Where she was, 99 percent don't make it. It's so unusual to be able to catch an aneurysm - we were fortunate."
Still battling extensive rehab and short-term memory loss, Mitzi White is slowly regaining her past stride.
"It takes a lot of time to get better and she gets tired easily, but she always has big plans," said White, who won the Street Machine Class Autocross at the 2008 Good Guys Napa Southern Nationals. "The main thing I tell her is that she's here and has her long-term memory and the short-term is coming back."
In fact, while enjoying dinner with friends this past week, Mitzi was feeling so well she encouraged White to finally return to Friday Night Drags.
"I came back on a fluke," said White. "The car was in the garage covered and I had no intentions of going to race when she said ‘Let's go.' I tried to talk her down, but we made a last minute call and went down to Atlanta Motor Speedway. I would have never asked her to go, but she knows it's my way of venting. She was worn out, but she really enjoyed it.
"If she wasn't up for going, I wasn't going to go," added White. "We've always done it together and she loves the cars, so it was special to get back out there together."
And in addition to the bonding with his wife, White's fellow racers and the race officials were happy to see White back.
"Everybody I ran into was great," said White. "The guy at the grid gate even stopped me to say he missed me. The drivers all stopped and talked to me and the guy that does the staging even recognized me. Everybody out here is great because of the companionship and friendship of racing. It's all about having a good time even if you lose. It's the way car people are, its all about having fun and doing it the right way."
When you speak to White, it's easy to hear relief in his voice. With his wife's steady recovery, life is becoming a bit more normal. Currently, he's glad to be able to resume his hobby and drag race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But, much more so, he's happy to still have the love of his life.
"I'm real lucky," said White. "I still have my wife and we can still take the car out and cruise together. We're the closest couple you'll ever meet and I'm fortunate to still have her."
Phil White, Mitzi and his 1965 Shelby Cobra replica can be seen at Friday Night Drags, which runs each Friday night through August 22. More information can be obtained by calling 770-946-4211 or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com