The thrill of NASCAR racing is characterized by more than just gleeful cheers for your favorite driver or team. Motorsports racing is inherently dangerous, pushing the envelope of the human condition and the minute tolerances the body can survive. Crashes are a draw. After all, it is exciting to see mechanical destruction at mad speeds, and rarely do we, the spectators, wish the worst on the drivers that entertain us weekend after weekend. At the end of the day as fans, we are all drawn to the sport for the love of NASCAR, automobile racing, speed and horsepower. With this comes, crashes. While most crashes are nothing more than a brush against a wall, or a heated spinout between rival NASCAR drivers, there are some that are placards in the visual history of the sport that shocked everyone and even questioned the integrity and future of NASCAR itself.
1. 2009 – Carl Edwards Catch Fence
NASCAR is a popular spectator sport, drawing crowds from all different creeds. While the cars race around the track, danger to the fans is miniscule. Yet Edward’s 2009 crash during the Aaron’s 499 proved that cars pushing 200 mph could be quite dangerous to fans as well. Edwards’ car was hurtled into the air after he tried to block Brad Keslowski. As the car hit the fence, several pieces were sent flying into the grandstands causing several non life-threatening injuries.
2. 1960 – Daytona Modified Sportsman Race
Twelve years after NASCAR was founded, this crash changed the sport unlike any other crash before it. It remains the largest crash in NASCAR history, reducing the number of drivers allowed on the track from 68 to 43. Thirty-seven cars were taken out in one single crash. While there were no injuries in this monstrous wreck, there is no doubt this incident has had a long-lasting effect on the sport.
3. 1970 – Richard Petty
Petty’s 1970 crash at Darlington saw the ushering in of window nets that are so ubiquitous in NASCAR stockcars today. At the track, Petty’s Plymouth hit a retaining wall, rolling multiple times as Petty’s arms were exposed out the driver’s side window. Fans were certain he was dead because the crash was so violent, but he just tangoed with death. This crash led NASCAR to mandate the nets be installed in all cars and led the creation of neck support safety features.
4. 2001 – Dale Earnhardt’s Fatal Crash
There is no crash that is more famous than the one that took the life of The Intimidator. At the 2001 Daytona 500 at the Daytona National Speedway, on the final lap of the race, Earnhardt got sideways after being bumped and hit the wall at 155 mph. Shorty after, he passed away at the hospital due to blunt head trauma. His death was one that still looms over the sport; his iconic number “3” is only now (2014) being reused. The crash was highly publicized and forced NASCAR to mandate HANS device usage by all drivers. Earnhardt refused to wear his.
5. 1987 – Bobby Allison Winston 500 Race
When cigarette companies were still sponsoring races, there was no such thing as a restrictor plate. Bill Elliot rocketed around Talladega Superspeedway at 212 mph—the fastest NASCAR car ever. It has remained the fastest because of Bobby Allison, whose tire shredded at approximately 200 mph, sending the car flying up and over the retaining wall. While Allison was uninjured, several spectators were. NASCAR then made cars racing at Talladega and Daytona use restrictor plates that limit the speed the cars can reach in hopes of stopping another crash like Allison’s from occurring.
Crashes are exciting, but can prove industry changing; and there are many more than what are on this list that have had some lasting effect. These crashes act as a reminder that the sport we do enjoy is dangerous and can change in just a moment’s notice.