May 08, 2004 05:40 PM

Bachelor Andrew Firestone was back on track Saturday, finishing up the One Lap of America racing event in South Bend, Ind., following a near-disastrous accident during a time trial Friday at a racetrack in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

“We completed it,” an elated Firestone told PEOPLE. “The car looked slightly modified … but we finished and that’s the most important thing.”

Of Friday’s crash, in which Firestone was not injured, he said, “It all happened so quickly – I just came in a little too fast on a fast straightaway and all of a sudden I just thought, ‘Oh, jeez, what a disappointment,’ ’cause I knew I was going to hit the wall. I thought it was a shame to end it this way – but I was wrong, it didn’t end that way.

“Instead, it was a great opportunity for us to pull together and show how our team works,” he added. “We pieced this car back together with duct tape, two-by-fours, parts from three different cars, and this was all done in four hours. We were so excited that we were able to finish up.”

The crash caused major damage to the car, a 2004 Subaru WRX STi, Firestone said, “But the stereo still works, if you can believe it. Everything was intact – if the airbags hadn’t deployed, I would have really been in some serious trouble.”

In fact, Firestone walked away from the crash, and says he didn’t even see a doctor. “My injuries are nothing more than a bruised ego,” he said. “I am very sore – but finishing here and having all the contestants pulling for us, wanting us to finish, has dulled any pain.”

Firestone and his brother, Adam, were both involved in the event, in which competitors drive street-legal cars 5,600 miles on public roads across the United States, stopping at a series of racetracks along the way for time trials. Former Bachelor contestant Tina Panas was at the racetrack in Wisconsin yesterday and witnessed the accident, but Firestone says she was there only as a friend.

“I would not be shy about it if it was, but I promise you there is absolutely zero possibility of romance whatsoever. I hadn’t seen or talked to (Tina) in over a year. I just thought it would be a shame to be in town and not at least say hello. So she came up and watched me crash my car.

“Maybe it was her redemption for not getting the rose,” Firestone added jokingly. “She watched me total my car – a little vindication.”

The woman who did get the rose, Jen Schefft – who has been linked with Apprentice winner Bill Rancic since she and Firestone broke off their engagement – didn’t get a call from Firestone during the race.

“We weren’t anywhere close enough to Chicago so I didn’t call this time around,” he said.

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