Mario Andretti awakens a split-second before dying.

"I still wake up from dreams that I am crashing or that I'm upside down -- things I used to dread and fear."

He is now 60.

"Thank God I survived that era."

In his time, he did it all: dirt-track stock cars, sprint cars, midget cars, Indy cars, prototype sports cars, NASCAR, Formula One. He won it all: the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the world driving championship . . .

And he lived to tell about it.

He cannot count the friends who didn't.

"At the beginning of a season, I would look around at a drivers' meeting and I would think, 'I wonder who's not going to be here at the end,' " he says. "There were years when we lost as many as six guys."

A young Emerson Fittipaldi would glance around the starting grid at the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco each spring and see 22 drivers.

"We all knew the odds," he says. "Three of us would not survive the season."

During the 35 years Richard Petty raced in NASCAR, he often would admonish his wife, Lynda. "If I get killed, if you ever sue anybody over it, I will haunt you," he told her. "I know the risk. I take all the responsibility."

1st racing death in 1898

That has been the mind-set of racing drivers worldwide, since the first fatality among them, the Marquis de Montaignac at Course de Perigueux in France in 1898.

Hundreds followed in the bloodiest lineage in all of sports.

Western civilization was quickly polarized on the subject of motor racing. There were masses revolted by it, and masses drawn to the mystique of the sport that killed almost banally.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway alone, in the first half of the century, became a notorious arena of death. From 1929 to 1940, the only fatality-free year there was 1936. The Indy 500s of 1933, '35 and '37 killed four men each.

Then came the hideously historic year of 1955. Six drivers -- including star Billy Vukovich, who died while going for his third consecutive Indy 500 victory -- were killed that season in racing for Indianapolis-type cars sanctioned by the American Automobile Association.

Worse, when Pierre Levegh crashed into the grandstands early in the 1955 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, 81 spectators died with him immediately; the final death toll eventually surpassed 100 as others succumbed to their injuries.

Under enormous public pressure, racing began to take steps in safety. By 1959, seat belts and roll bars were mandatory in Indy cars. But the most nightmarish cause of death, fire, remained.