Chris Osborne thankful to be returning to spotter's stand after accident

Chris Osborne, left, Melissa Osborne and Austin Osborne on the day Melissa was told she could get out of her wheelchair. The Osborne family

Chris Osborne will celebrate Easter weekend and feel blessed. He will spend it with his wife, Melissa, and son, Austin, and they will consider themselves fortunate despite the hell they have experienced the last three months.

Five days after Easter, Osborne plans to embark on an emotional trek to a racetrack. He will return to the job he loves as Matt Kenseth's spotter and will enjoy every breath he takes of the cool mountain air at Martinsville Speedway.

He can't erase the memories and the pain of the last 14 weeks, nor the sounds of the horrific crash that could have taken all of their lives. But he can relish life.

"I can't explain to you how many times we've reflected back and said how blessed we were," Osborne said. "No. 1, the good Lord gave us all three a second opportunity at life. Obviously it's been filled with challenges, but the challenges will come and go. He spared our lives and it's up to us to make the best of it.

"Then after that, which is first and foremost, the outpouring of support from family and friends, people in racing, race fans ... that's something until you experience it, you just don't realize how fortunate you are."

The Osborne family had their lives forever changed at 10:04 p.m. Dec. 17 when, less than 10 minutes from the Osborne home in Sophia, North Carolina, a driver who would later be charged with driving under the influence lost control of his car while going 60 mph and smashed into Osborne's vehicle, crushing the entire front of the car. That driver, with prior DUIs in 2006 and 2007, has a date in court Monday.

Osborne suffered a shattered right leg that needed 25 screws to hold the rod and plates together. His wife, Melissa, in the back seat, was catapulted over her son Austin in the front passenger seat and suffered a broken hip, pelvis and right elbow -- all needed reconstructive surgery -- in addition to nine broken ribs and a broken shoulder. Austin suffered a partially collapsed lung, a bruised sternum, a concussion, a broken nose, a bruised shoulder and lost a couple of teeth. All were wearing seat belts.

In the hospital for a week and with his wife having been transferred to a different hospital, Chris Osborne didn't even see Melissa for eight days until fellow Joe Gibbs Racing spotter Chris Lambert drove Osborne to see her.

"I surprised Melissa at the hospital Christmas night," said the 50-year-old Osborne. "That was a very special and emotional time, but it's probably the one Christmas in 50 years that stands heads above the rest -- to at least have one another and spend a little time together and reflect on the prior few weeks and just to understand how blessed we were to be able to spend that time together."

The last three months, the family has focused on getting better. A freshman in college, Austin dropped out of his school in Charlotte (85 miles from their home) and enrolled in a one 15 minutes from home to help take care of his parents. Osborne's wife spent nearly a month in the hospital and can now get out of her wheelchair. The couple just started trying to sleep in their actual bed this week. Chris can sleep for about 30 to 90 minutes at a time. His wife has returned to the recliner.

The pain hasn't just been physical. Osborne's wife doesn't remember the impact and neither does Austin, but Osborne himself remembers "100 percent" of it. He had his friends drive him by the scene of the accident on the way home from the hospital. He has driven by the spot of the accident without any major issue. But on March 12, Osborne and his wife went out to pick up food and Melissa had a little bit of a rough time riding in a car at night, seeing the headlights coming toward them.

And then ...

"There was one point in time where a cold chill came over my body and I could hear the metal crunching and the glass breaking and the airbag deploying," Chris Osborne said. "It didn't last 10-15 seconds, but it was enough to kind of shatter my thought. ... I had that same exact feeling again [a week later].

"It's not something that really bothers me. It's not something that I dwell on. I don't think I have any mental issues reflecting back on it. It's just in that point of time, my brain just said, 'Wow.' "

Osborne has spent more than two decades in the NASCAR garage (he also used to drive the hauler), and now it's time for him to get back to work. He will wear an air cast on his right leg, which allows him to wear sneakers. He will spot for both Daniel Suarez in trucks and Kenseth at Martinsville. He will have a walker or a cane for as long as he needs -- getting to the spotter stand he expects will be the toughest part.

His doctor approved his putting 100 percent weight on his leg March 12, but he doesn't expect the leg will ever be the same as it was prior to the accident. Osborne notes that one of the screws has broken inside his leg, but because it hasn't caused a problem, it remains among the 25 inside of him.

"I probably will never have that stuff taken out because it is such a support system for the bottom part of my leg," Osborne said. "Pretty much, my tibia is gone. It is not there anymore. ... The fibula was broken as well. The bottom of my kneecap was a fracture from side to side and it also had a fracture going up into the ball of my kneecap.

"From that point down, if you look at my X-rays, there's so many fractures just in every aspect -- vertical, horizontal, diagonally."

While obeying his doctor's orders and confident that if he can't do the job, he will tell the team he needs more time, Osborne hasn't had it easy watching races from home and listening to the in-car radio. He has worked with Kenseth for three years, and while stressing he is not saying fill-in spotter Lorin Ranier did anything wrong, Osborne obviously felt the chemistry he has with Kenseth could have made a difference on the final lap of the Daytona 500, where Kenseth was passed by eventual winner Denny Hamlin.

"I've come from reclining to sitting up on the edge of the seat screaming at the TV the last half-lap and especially off of Turn 4," Osborne said about watching the Daytona 500. "Then when it was all said and done, I kind of sunk back in my seat and that was one of those first deals where I kind of put my head down in my hands and said, 'Man, this is a prime example of I have let these guys down.' "

For someone who couldn't put weight on his right leg, he had no choice but to sit at home. He should have blamed the other driver in the accident, not himself.

"It isn't anything I went out and caused, but still I'm the focal point of the situation and feel partly responsible for the end result," Osborne said. "And if I didn't feel that way, then I should be doing something different anyway because this is my heart and soul.

"This is what I do for a living. I do it for a passion, first. The money comes somewhere else down the line. ... After 20-something years now, if I didn't enjoy what I was doing, I would have done something different a long time ago."

So if anyone sees Osborne get emotional on the spotter stand or in the garage next weekend, that's why.

"I don't see how anybody that has a passion for their job, no matter what it is and for the people that support you prior to the accident and now especially afterwards, how it can't be [emotional] at some point in time," Osborne said.

"Walking in the gate Friday morning and seeing all the people that have been there for myself and my family through this, that's when it will hit. And then when I get back up on the roof and get my radios and headset out ... and get ready to go back to work, I would say that will probably be as well."