Eric McClure, family survive tornado

Updated: April 28, 2011, 12:51 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Nationwide Series driver Eric McClure survived the "most helpless and scary" moment of his life Wednesday night when one of the deadly tornadoes that have wreaked havoc in the South ripped through his home in Abingdon, Va.

"It looks like a war zone, a mine field," said McClure, who spent about four hours huddled under a basement staircase with his wife, three children and two dogs.

"It's a debris field as far as you can see. It's shocking. We have never experienced anything like that before," he said.

Although the house sustained major damage, McClure and his family survived the ordeal without injury.

McClure It got real dead for five or six seconds. Then it felt like a train came through the house. That's when we put our heads down and just waited it out. The thing was just shaking the house. I don't wish that on anybody.

-- Eric McClure

So far, 16 fatalities have been reported in Glade Springs, about eight miles from McClure's home. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 200 deaths had been reported throughout the South, with 131 reported in Alabama alone.

"You hear all the stories about people having these things happen and you never think it will happen to you," McClure said. "We were blessed, but it was the most helpless and scary feeling I'íve had in my life."

McClure's nightmarish Wednesday began at about 10 p.m. ET, less than two minutes after he and his family returned home from church.

"It was looking kind of crazy," he said. "We thought maybe we needed to get downstairs. We may have been down there a minute and 30 seconds when it came right through."

McClure, his wife, three children ranging from 9 months old to 4 years and two teacup poodles huddled under the basement staircase until 2 a.m. ET, when they determined it was safe to come out.

"It's tough to just sit there and wait," McClure said. "It got real dead for five or six seconds. Then it felt like a train came through the house. That's when we put our heads down and just waited it out. The thing was just shaking the house. I don't wish that on anybody."

McClure said he has been overcome by the number of calls and messages from the NASCAR community.

"Which is cool, for the fact I'm a relatively anonymous guy,í" said McClure, who is ranked 18th in points and winless in 145 career Nationwide races. "I keep to myself most weekends. For me, it's pretty humbling."

Despite the damage to McClure'ís three-story home, the 33-year-old driver, who races with Tri Star Motorsports, hopes to participate in Friday night's Nationwide race at Richmond International Raceway -- once he gets his family settled.

"Right now the plan is to spend time talking to my wife further about it and help clean up, get some things in order," McClure said. "At this point, there is pretty much nothing you can do but look at it. If I don't drive, they're already working on somebody to run the car if they need to.

"If it gets to the point where there is nothing else we can do, I'll think about driving."

The damage to McClure's house was extensive.

A large tree fell and severely damaged the back porch and kitchen. Many windows were blown out. Flooding occurred throughout the house, with water coming out of light fixtures and outlets.

And according to those surveying the damage, it appeared the roof was lifted off the structure and set back down slightly sideways.

McClure said his father's house, which stands about 400 yards away from his, received minor damage and is livable. His wife's parents' house, about 15 miles away, was unharmed.

McClure sent the following messages via Twitter throughout the ordeal to keep friends and family updated:

•  "Still in basement. House was hit by the first tornado. Damage uncertain. A lot of praying ..."

•  "Still waiting. Praying for those affected. Severe damage 2 house but donít know extent yet. Too much to tweet. Another one coming supposedly."

•  "Thx 4 prayers. Moved 2 Dads. House is wrecked; hiding place and most of the house flooded. Severe damage to roof, sides, well the whole inside. Everyone safe. God good."

•  "I was ok until Mabreigh [4-year-old] said, 'Daddy, tomorrow when its daylight you can fix my swingset and the porch. You have tools in the garage.' Then I got sad."

"It's gone," McClure said of the swing set. "The little piece of it thatí's left was flattened by a tree. The rest of it is scattered."

In hard-hit Alabama, Talladega Superspeedway has committed $100,000 to aid the American Red Cross. The speedway is also planning to raise funds by allowing fans to drive their cars on the high-banked track May 6-8 for a $50 donation.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter