FLORENCE, Ala. - When Blake Bobbitt accompanied her father for the first time at a Talladega Superspeedway race in April 2009, she never could have imagined the events that were to unfold during the final lap of the Aaron 499 race.
NASCAR drivers Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski were both pushing for the win as they neared the finish line. When Edwards' car spun out of control, flipped and crashed into the catch fence, debris from the vehicle sprinkled onto fans in the stands.
Bobbitt, a 17-year-old high school senior at the time of the accident, was struck by a piece of debris from the crashing car, crushing her lower jawbone. She was flown by helicopter to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
Doctors told Bobbitt, who graduated from Lauderdale County High School a month after the crash, that if the piece of debris had hit her 6 inches higher or lower she would not have survived.
"I thought it was crazy that it happened to me out of all the people that were there that day," she said. "I remember asking my anesthesiologist at the hospital if I was going to die. He told me there was a one in a million chance I would die under anesthesia. I then asked him what the chances were of me getting hurt at Talladega, and that's when the doctor turned to my mama and said 'She's right.'"
Bobbitt, who is now 20, has endured nine surgeries as a result of the injuries she sustained that day. She has had her jaw restructured with titanium plates, a bone graft and tissue transplant.
The piece of debris also knocked out six of her teeth, which will be replaced in about six weeks. The upcoming dental procedure is Bobbitt's final step toward recovery, doctors say.
"It's been a really long, hard road the past two years," she said. "I don't feel any different besides going to Birmingham for surgeries. It was a freak accident because it's not every day that you go to Talladega and get hit by a race car."
On the brighter side, Bobbitt developed a friendship with Edwards, who had no idea until hours after the accident that the debris from his car had injured anyone.
Edwards quickly contacted Bobbitt at the hospital, recounting his own experience with a broken jaw that had been wired shut. Bobbitt met Edwards months after the accident at a Talladega race and continues to keep in touch with him through text messages and phone calls.
She was honored as the inaugural member of the AFLAC Crew of Courage program and had her name printed on the back of Edwards' helmet. Bobbitt also received medical benefits to cover her health expenses.
and a replica of Edwards' helmet.
"Carl is a really good guy and is down to earth," she said. "He's not like most people who have fame and fortune. Carl said that if I have any trouble along the way, that I better let him know."
Terry Bobbitt, Blake's father, was celebrating his birthday the day of the accident at Talladega. He said Blake hasn't let the crash negatively affect her life.
"Blake is a trooper," he said. "(The surgeries) are something she knows she's got to put behind her. This accident has not really impacted her that much that we can tell. She doesn't complain about going to the doctor and does what she needs to do."
Officials have never determined what piece of debris actually hit Bobbitt's jaw, but the catch fence around the speedway was heightened from 14 to 22 feet to provide extra protection at future races.
Since the accident, Bobbitt and her family have attended every Talladega race. The support she has received from friends, family, community members and the nation has inspired her throughout her recovery.
"Almost every day, I have people who ask about me and tell me their church prayed for me and that they have prayed for me," she said. "I'm just very thankful to be alive."