NASCAR, short for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is like the heart and soul of American racing, where fearless drivers push themselves and their machines to the absolute limit, all for the glory of being the first past the checkered flag. But in this electrifying sport, there's a darker side that's just as much a part of the action – the crashes.
Let’s be honest, part of the reason why NASCAR has so many die-hard fans is because of the thrill and, yes, the danger that comes with it. It might sound a bit strange, but many folks can't help but get excited when they see those cars colliding and spinning out of control. In fact, some fans have been known to leave a race disappointed if there weren't any crashes or wrecks.
However, we can't ignore the fact that these crashes are no joke. They're not like the scripted stunts you see in Hollywood where you know the hero's gonna make it out fine. Nope, these are real, heart-pounding moments when racing dreams suddenly turns into a fiery nightmares, which can be, well, downright life-threatening, and sadly, in some cases, can lead to death.
It's a stark reminder that, as much as we love the excitement, we can't forget the risks these drivers face every single time they hop into their racing machines. They're real-life heroes behind those wheels, battling not just for trophies, but for their safety too.
So, without keeping you waiting any longer, I present to you the 7 gnarliest crashes in NASCAR history. Now, I gotta admit, this list is just one person's take, and there's a good chance I've missed some epic crashes, especially those from the '70s and '80s, way before my time, and back when NASCAR was just starting to become popular. Feel free to give me a heads up if I'm missing something big in the comment section.
Crash #7: Ricky Rudd - Atlanta, 1990
In our starting position at number seven, we have a crash that shook up the NASCAR community real bad - the car crash involving Ricky Rudd at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1990. That day really exposed some serious safety gaps in NASCAR.
It was the final race of the year, the Atlanta Journal 500. Bill Elliot's car started acting up, and he had to make a pit stop for a tire change. And then, out of the blue, things took a terrible turn. Ricky Rudd lost control of his car, spun out, and ended up crashing into Mike Rich, who was changing Elliot's rear tire. Poor Mike got sandwiched between the two cars.
They hurriedly rushed him to the hospital, but sadly, he didn't make it. People were furious - fans, local dignitaries, everyone was up in arms. But, you know what they say, sometimes change comes from tragedy. Mike Rich's death wasn't in vain.
NASCAR knew they had some serious work to do. They decided to step up their game on safety measures. They introduced speed limits on pit roads at all tracks, and they made it mandatory for pit crew members to wear protective gear at all times. You see, they weren't fooling around. Nowadays, if any pit crew member dares to show up without the proper protective gear, they're in for a dose of NASCAR-approved punishment. It's all about keeping everyone safe out there on the track.
Crash #6: Michael McDowell - Texas Qualifying, 2008
Moving on to number six, let's talk about a wild car crash with Michael McDowell during Texas Qualifying. Now, NASCAR doesn't usually see crashes during qualifying rounds, but 2008 had a surprise in store for everyone, especially for McDowell.
His first qualifying lap was going pretty smooth, but then things took a crazy turn during the second one. As he was heading into turn one, his car got all wobbly. He tried to save it, but it was like the car had a mind of its own. Instead of behaving, it decided to overcorrect and bam! It smacked into the outside wall at a crazy speed – 180 miles per hour, to be exact.
The impact was so intense that it sent his car flipping upside down. Can you imagine that? The car did not just flip once but twice, like a scene from a crazy action movie, and then it rolled down the banking. Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier, his car somehow ended up back on its wheels. Relief washed over the crowd as they saw Michael clambering out of his mangled car, safe and sound.
I mean, even the announcer's voice was shaking with fear during that heart-pounding incident. The analysts later had a good point, saying that if it weren't for those safety barriers they started putting up in the 2000s, well, things might've turned out a lot worse. So, that crash with Michael McDowell was one heck of a ride, but thank goodness he walked away from it.
Crash #5: Ryan Newman - Daytona 500, 2020
At number five, we have an absolute shocker of a high-speed crash that happened when so many safety measures have been put in place to reduce the chances of having any crashes during the 2020 era. Sometimes, you just can't predict what's gonna happen on that track. This crash was one of the most dangerous crashes in recent NASCAR history and Ryan Newman was the poor guy in the hot seat.
Newman was leading the charge in the final lap of the race, and he wasn't about to let Ryan Blaney snatch that checkered flag. But then, out of the blue, Blaney comes charging in, hungry for victory. He slams into Newman's right rear, and it's like a disaster waiting to happen. Newman's car goes airborne, flips a few times, and then comes crashing down on its roof.
Then, the unbelievable happens. Carey Lajoie, zooming at a whopping 180 miles per hour, slams right into Newman's car from behind. Newman's car, at this point, was in shambles. It slides down on its roof, all mangled and crunched, right to the end of pit road.
It took the rescue team a good 20 minutes to get him out of that wreck. Miraculously, Newman survived this insane ordeal. He did lose consciousness, but thankfully, his injuries weren't life-threatening.
Most people thought he'd never set foot on the racetrack again, but guess what? Three months later, Newman proved everyone wrong, he was back in the driver's seat once again. It's like a true comeback story that shows you can't keep a good racer down.
Crash #4: Steve Park - Darlington, 2001
At number four, we’ll be talking about the car crash involving Steve Park at Darlington Raceway in 2001. Steve Park was one of the most promising drivers in NASCAR, and he even had the honor of being Dale Earnhardt's first protege to make it to the big leagues, the Winston Cup Series. But life took a nasty turn for him that year.
It all went down on September 1st during the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Park was behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet for Marsh Racing when things took a wild turn. They were under caution, just cruising along, and then, out of the blue, his steering wheel suddenly pops off.
With no control over his car, Park ended up swerving to the left when he should've been going straight. Meanwhile, right behind him was, Larry Foyt, who was trying to catch up to the front of the pack as they were getting ready to restart. Poor Larry didn't have a clue about the steering wheel issue going on with Steve's car. Bam! He slammed into the driver's side of Park's car.
The aftermath was rough. They immediately rushed Park to the hospital, and it wasn't good. He had a severe brain injury, several broken ribs, and even had trouble speaking after that wreck. It was a real game-changer in his career, and not in a good way.
Crash #3: Richard Petty - Pocono, 1980
Number three on our list takes us back to the Pocono International Raceway in 1980, where Richard Petty had a wild ride that made all our hearts skip a beat. It was a race day like any other at the Pocono Raceway and Petty was giving it his all in the race.
As Richard Petty approached the second turn with lightning speed, Petty's lost the right front wheel of his car and suddenly loses control before slamming into the wall with tremendous force, the car nearly flipped over. Debris from the wreckage flew everywhere.
Petty would have been walked away from this mess unscathed if it weren't for Darrell Waltrip, who came in like a wrecking ball and slammed right into Petty's driver-side door, which really injured Petty real bad. Safety crews rushed to the scene in an instant, their primary concern being Petty's well-being. Miraculously, he emerged from his battered car with only a broken neck.
He managed to successfully recover from this injury and a few days later, he Petty’s back on the track again. In order to continue racing, Petty chose not to inform NASCAR about his broken neck injury. Officials didn't find out until weeks later.
Crash #2: Bobby Allison - Talladega, 1987
At number two, we have the crash involving Bobby Allison at Talladega in 1987. Bobby Allison, a seasoned driver known for his aggressive style, found himself caught up in a dangerous situation. As he sped down the straightaway at over 200 miles per hour, when all of a sudden, his tire came in contact with a sharp piece of debris making it to burst.
His car suddenly went airborne because he was at high speed and crashed into the steel wall that separates the crowd of spectators from the racetrack. The impact was so intense that it even punched a hole through the fence. Luckily, it didn't reach the stands, but it sure sent debris flying everywhere. Several fans got injured by shrapnel from the debris. One poor woman nearly lost her eye.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, NASCAR decided to play it safe. They made it mandatory for the drivers to use these things called restrictor plates. These plates basically put a cap on how fast the engines can go, making the races a bit safer. Now it's not just about who's got the fastest car; it's about skill and teamwork, which is how it should be.
Crash #1: Dale Earnhardt - Daytona 500, 2001
And rounding out our lineup at number one, we can't forget the tragic crash that took Dale Earnhardt's life at the 2001 Daytona 500. It was a race that'll forever be remembered in NASCAR's history as one of its darkest moments.
On the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the deceased car spun out of control after contact with another driver, sending him careening into the retaining wall at an incredible speed. The impact was so brutal that Dale sustained a basilar skull fracture, and by the time he made it to Halifax Medical Center, he was declared gone at around 5PM.
In the aftermath of the crash, NASCAR made some big safety changes. They introduced the SAFER barriers, those soft walls, and they even banned that iconic black #3 paint scheme as a tribute. Drivers had to wear those HANS devices to keep their heads safe. They also started working on a roof-hatch escape system and brought in the Car of Tomorrow, which was supposed to be a whole lot safer.
Since Dale's tragic passing, NASCAR's been super focused on safety, and since then, the competition hasn't face another driver losing their life on the track.
There you have it folks, the top 7 crashes in NASCAR history. If you think we missed any, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!