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For five hours a day over the next three months, Guerrero played computer games. Actually, they were therapeutic exercises for his brain—mazes, cryptograms, arithmetic problems—all designed specifically for rehabilitation from head injuries. "It totally drove me crazy," he says. But it worked. Something did, anyhow.
The January test session for Vince Granatelli Racing wasn't kept secret, but the possibility of Guerrero's driving was downplayed. It was held at Firebird International Raceway, a combination drag strip-road circuit just outside Phoenix, and Al Unser Sr. was scheduled to be the main test driver. But Guerrero would be on hand. Both Guerrero and Granatelli knew that Guerrero could drive...if he felt like it.
"I could tell he was real nervous," says Granatelli, who lists some of Guerrero's uncertainties: "How's he going to know what's going to happen? When he runs into a corner and the car gets a little loose, is he going to be quick enough to correct for it? Is he going to correct too fast, or overcorrect? Do you come off the throttle? Give it more? Feather it? Is he going to remember all this stuff?
"He ran five laps, and he was faster than Al was after 150 laps that day. I saw Al walking out of the big tractor-trailer transporter that we use, with his street clothes on. He was smiling when he said, 'I told you Roberto was going to be O.K.' "
Guerrero's comeback race was to have been in a 40-lap International Race of Champions event at Daytona on Feb. 12. While practicing in his race-prepared Camaro—he had never driven a stock car or on the 33-degree banking of Daytona International Speedway—he crashed and broke his foot. So the comeback was delayed. Instead of returning to action in a low-key undercard event for the Daytona 500, Guerrero would plunge right into the deep end: He would return to racing in an Indy Car at the CART season opener at the demanding Phoenix oval on April 10.
Qualifying second to Mears was a relief, although it was more or less expected by Guerrero—if by no one else. He had badly wanted the pole and might have gotten it had he not had a small problem with his turbocharger. And being edged by Mears, who was driving the quick new Penske-Chevrolet that has made him the favorite for the pole this weekend when qualifying begins for the Indy 500, can hardly be considered an embarrassment.
The 200-mile race was held in desert heat. Mears led easily until he was taken out by a slower driver, and Mario Andretti went on to win. Guerrero drove well but lost time in the pits on an unlucky yellow-flag situation and finished second. "I'm disappointed we didn't win, but it's wonderful to be disappointed like that again," he said.
With that finish the world knew Guerrero was back. His team had known it a bit earlier; they had had to listen to him on the radio. Katie heard some of it too. "You were nasty," she said later to her husband. "Really unkind on that restart."
But his blankety-blank words had never sounded so sweet.