Racing is a dangerous sport, and sometimes the footage of certain incidents have been withheld from the public due to just how horrible they were. These are all of the examples that I am personally aware of or have every reason to believe exists.
1985: The Atlanta ARCA 500k (BROADCAST)
Apparently, the USA Network was planning on showing an ARCA race at the Atlanta International Raceway in June 1985 on tape delay, but this had to be aborted after a massive accident claimed the life of a driver. It was promoted as a fairly prestigious event, with a rather high purse and a figurehead grand marshal in NASCAR founder Bill France.
On lap 32, New Zealander Stuart Lyndon went around off of turn two at full speed and slammed into the inside earth wall with ungodly force. Steel and concrete barriers have some give, especially steel, and cars will often bounce off of them as needed. Steel and concrete barriers can also be shoved back a few centimeters or even break if the impacts are especially hard. Well packed dirt has absolutely no ‘give’. When cars strike earth walls, they either come to a complete stop or vault over the top of the earth wall, depending on its angle. In Lyndon’s case, the impact was so brutal that the roll cage completely shattered and Lyndon was thrown through the windshield. He was dead at the scene. The race continued and was won by Davey Allison, but the broadcast, if it was actually going to occur in the first place, was called off.
1990: The ARCA 200 (BROADCAST)
ESPN was planning on showing the 1990 ARCA 200 on tape delay, but decided not to after a vicious crash late.
A multicar pileup struck in turn four with about five laps to go, sending many cars into the wall, the car of Slick Johnson hitting it especially hard. Several medics ran over to the drivers involved in the crash, wanting to see what assistance they could give.
Bob Keselowski, father of 2012 NASCAR Cup champion Brad, was driving by the accident when his car snapped left and he spun down the banking. Bob’s car hit that of Kevin Gundaker, knocking Gundaker’s car into Mike Staley, the paramedic assisting Gundaker at the time. The race was not ended, per se, but it did not go back to green flag conditions. The field was paced around under caution for the rest of regulation distance and Jimmy Horton crossed the line in first.
Staley made a near-full recovery. He wasn’t able to return to being a paramedic, but was last seen giving motivational speeches. Slick Johnson, a short track expert whose real first name was Julius, suffered severe head injuries in the crash, and he did not survive. Johnson died three days later, aged 41.
A few years later, Rescue 911 asked ESPN if they could use the crash footage for a segment on Mike Staley’s survival. Their request was accepted, and the footage is readily available online. However, the broadcast itself has never been shown, likely due to the Staley collision.
1991: The Fatal Crash Of Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick’s older brother Derek had already made it to Formula One, and Paul was looking to do the same. He’d absolutely destroyed the field in the first few British F3000 Series races in 1991, and was looking to do the same at Oulton Park. However, late in the going, something went on Paul’s car and he crashed at the incredibly fast Knickerbrook corner. Paul was ejected from the vehicle and died almost instantly.
Being as it was 1991, anyone who wanted to film for memory’s sake had to lug around a large camcorder. Police forcefully collected and confiscated all the spectator footage they could, and turned it over to the Warwick family. The one photo above is the only known photo ever released of the accident.
The race was ended on the spot, and Paul was declared the winner, as he had been leading at the time. Paul Warwick had been so dominant in the season and had built up such a points lead that he, despite missing half the races, was eventually declared champion – posthumously.
1995: The 1995 Sportsman 100 (BROADCAST)
Russell Phillips raced in a Sportsman Series that existed in the early to mid 1990s, and during a race at Charlotte in 1995, the ironically squeamish Phillips was killed in what’s often considered the worst crash seen in NASCAR’s history.
In short, contact between him and another car, that of Steven Howard, sent Phillips roof-first into the fence. The roof was completely sheared away, and Phillips was savagely dismembered. The race continued after a cleanup, and the second race (it was a doubleheader) was also held. The race Russell was killed during, known simply as the Sportsman 100, was won by Gary Laton, and the second race, the Duron Paints And Wallcoverings 100, was won by Lester Lesneski.
Footage of the accident does exist, and it’s widely available. However, the Sportsman Series races were often recorded to be shown on tape delay, and this race was no exception. The broadcast of the race was never shown out of decency, nor was the much-calmer second race of the doubleheader the next day. Whether the broadcast was immediately aborted or continued and scrapped later is unknown. The Sportsman Series was ridden of after 1995, though it did run a few short tracks in 1996 with small fields and even smaller interest.
1995: The Fatal Crash Of Russell Phillips (AFTERMATH)
The aftermath footage of Russell’s fatal crash and the cleanup has also never been released with the exception of one very brief clip of the catchfence being cleaned.
Again, the race continued on after the accident. Winner’s ceremonies were not cancelled after the accident, and during his interview, Gary Laton did not address Phillips’ crash, nor was he asked about it. The Sportsman Series, which used old Cup and Busch cars with massive speed reductions, showed the flaws with the day’s cars. Over the course of 45 races, a dozen drivers had been severely injured, and three were dead. The only reason this hadn’t all happened in Cup was driver experience. After this and Dale Earnhardt’s horrific crash in 1996 at Talladega, the Earnhardt Bar was implemented as an extra roof support.
EXISTENCE: VERY LIKELY
1996: The Fatal Crash Of Elmer Trett
On August 31st, 1996, Blaine Johnson, the NHRA Top Fuel Dragster points leader, ran the length of the quarter mile dragstrip at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 4.612 seconds, a track record. Immediately after crossing the line, something broke on the dragster and it shifted to the left. Johnson tried to save it, but the vehicle angled over to the right while still skidding left. The dragster struck an opening in the wall, and unfortunately, it struck the wall right where the cockpit was. Johnson, 32, passed during surgery later that day. Footage of this DOES exist.
The next day, September 1st, 53-year-old Elmer Trett, a veteran of motorcycle drag racing, fell off his bike at 230mph and slid into the sand trap at the end of the strip. There wasn’t much anyone could do for Trett, who was reportedly almost disfigured by the somersaults his body did when it hit the sand trap. Exactly one replay of the accident was shown on the track’s big screen, and after that, the crash was never shown again in any context.
In 2013, drag bike racer Chris Matheson fell from his bike at about the same speed of 230mph. He was lucky enough to escape with little more than severe bruising and a broken foot. Footage of his spill is readily available, and witnesses say that Matheson’s crash was very similar to how Trett’s started.
EXISTENCE: ALMOST CERTAIN
1997: The Fatal Crash Of Sebastien Enjolras
21-year-old rising talent Sebastien Enjolras was killed in early May of 1997 when his Peugeot WR97 open top prototype lost something and spun out of control during a pre-qualifying practice session for that year’s running of the 24 Hours Of Le Mans. The vehicle blew over and passed so low over the wall that Sebastien was brutally guillotined, then rolled several times into oblivion. It was one of the most violent crashes in Le Mans history. Organizers responded by immediately banning one-piece bodywork cars such as the WR97 he had been running.
Footage of the accident exists, as pre-qualifying practice was normally filmed, and sits in the hands of Peugeot, ACO, and the Enjolras family. Very few details have been revealed of what it contains, but it apparently shows what happened to Enjolras in disturbingly high quality.
1999: The Fatal Crash Of Neil Shanahan
On May 31, 1999, Neil Shanahan, a promising 19-year-old driver from Ireland, crashed into a barrier during a three car accident on lap two of the British Formula Ford Zetec Championship. The crash occurred at Clay Hill, a medium speed corner off of Knickerbrook, so while it was a massive hit, it apparently was not one most people would have expected to actually kill Neil. However, it did, and Neil died on the way to the hospital from massive head injuries. Oulton Park was heavily criticized for lack of proper safety features after the accident.
Neil’s parents were given the footage that was taken of his crash. They explained that they wished to understand exactly what happened. Very little mention of the footage has been made since, though at least one forum post noted that unlike with the crash of Paul Warwick, police did not forcefully seize the footage of Shanahan’s crash.
EXISTENCE: VERY LIKELY
1999: The Wild Crash Of Peter Dumbreck (ONBOARD)
Ah, the Mercedes-Benz CLR…this aerodynamically unsound car suffered its third front flip of the 1999 24 Hours Of Le Mans weekend when Peter Dumbreck lifted off during the race. Despite amount of times Dumbreck`s incredible ride was replayed during the slowdown period, they did not show the onboard shot of Dumbreck.
Interestingly, Peter Dumbreck`s Mercedes-Benz CLR actually did have an onboard camera. In fact, they had done a whole onboard lap at one point in the broadcast. However, its capturing of the accident was never shown. It ‘s possible that the high ups at Mercedes, having seen the crash, immediately phoned up the broadcasting team and ordered them not to use the onboard shot. While Dumbreck escaped from the wreckage with few injuries, the onboard shot of his wild cartwheel has never been shown. Mercedes-Benz withdrew from Le Mans yet again, having done so for the first time in 1955 after driver Pierre Levegh’s car crashed into the crowd and killed upwards of 80 people, and has yet to return as of 2017.
EXISTENCE: ALMOST CERTAIN
2002: The Irwindale 150 (BROADCAST)
Despite being promoted as an ultra-safe track, Irwindale Event Center was a death palace in its early days, having suffered a fatality on opening night in 1999, a second death later that year, and a third in late 2001. It took a fourth fatality in 2002 for track owners to actually do something.
On lap 37 of the 150 lap NASCAR Southwest race on June 8, 2002, contact between John Baker and Sean Woodside in turn two sent Baker’s car glancing off of Greg Voigt’s and straight up the track and head-on into a gate, dealing Baker fatal injuries. The race was briefly red flagged, but it eventually went on. The victory went to a young David Gilliland. The race was going to be broadcasted on tape delay a couple of days later, but the broadcast was never shown. The Goody’s Dash race at Daytona from that February was shown instead. Irwindale cancelled the next weekend’s events and sealed off the gate that Baker had struck among other track alterations, never giving much of a reason as to why.
2003: The Fatal Crash Of Tony Renna
On October 22nd, 2003, the Indy Racing League held a test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its tires. During this session, Tony Renna, who had only just signed with Chip Ganassi as the teammate of future Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, went around in turn three at 230mph. The car then struck the catchfence with its underside, instantly killing Renna from massive internal trauma. The accident was captured on a security camera in turn three.
Speculation is all over the place when it comes to Renna’s accident, due to how little is known about it. However, if all eyewitness reports of the crash are correct, then Renna’s crash is the most gruesome accident in motorsport history.
After the investigation concluded, Tony George sealed the tapes in the vault under the speedway. Apparently, George went out of his way to make sure no footage of Renna’s death was made public, even seizing the security tapes of a gas station across the street which had captured smoke rising. There are a few aftermath images showing track workers repairing the damaged catchfence sometime later, some of which show damage to the unoccupied bleachers, but the video of the crash itself will likely never be released.
2004: The Death Of Roy Weaver
The Goody’s Dash Series found new life as the iPower Dash Series in 2004, and planned a schedule of short tracks and speedways, with the traditional one superspeedway race at Daytona. On lap 9 of the Daytona race, Billy Clevenger spun in turn four and was slammed by Tony Billings, severely injuring Billings, who would be in the hospital for some time.
On lap 19, the race was still under caution for whatever reason. Roy Weaver III, a track worker, spotted some debris and asked his companions on the truck to park it to the low side. This was a violation, as the track workers’ trucks are supposed to be on the high side as a reference, not the low side where they can’t be seen. Roy also failed to radio in to officials that he had found debris, in which case they would have told the teams and drivers would have been on the lookout.
During the caution, Ray Paprota, the nation’s first known paraplegic to race in a national stock car tour, pulled out of the garage. He’d failed to start due to a faulty battery, but since the race wasn’t red flagged, the crew could work on the car. Eventually, they changed the battery and he pulled out. Ray did one wave-around lap and got ready to join up with the field on the backstretch when, in turn two, he came across Roy.
The ensuing collision instantly killed Roy Weaver. Ray, shaken but still hoping he’d missed Roy, drove back to the pits, and the rest of the field soon followed.
The race was eventually resumed, with Danny Bagwell taking the win. Footage of the collision way caught by CCTV cameras and a mounted wall camera in turn two, but Daytona turned the footage over to the police for their investigation, possibly wishing to prevent the heavy criticism they received after Dale Earnhardt’s death, where the footage went to the media first. Police eventually placed full blame on the track crew.
The iPower Dash Series was done in by the story’s sensationalism (Ray, who later returned to legend cars and has since retired, was blameless, but when the media heard that Ray was a paraplegic, they went wild), and was handed off to the ASA, who let the series waste away before putting it out of its misery in 2011.
2008: The Massive Crash Of Jeff Gordon (INSIDE)
During the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas in 2008, Jeff Gordon crashed into an entrance gate while trying to avoid a spinning Matt Kenseth. It was the hardest hit of his career, but due to NASCAR’s many safety upgrades across the years, Gordon was able to – gingerly – walk away.
In the accident, Gordon had three onboard cameras, one on the car’s front, one on the car’s rear, and one inside the car facing towards Gordon. The broadcast crew showed the impact from several external angles and from the car’s front and rear, but never showed the impact from inside. They did show the aftermath from inside the car, as Gordon collected his thoughts and unbuckled, but not the impact itself, apparently because Gordon’s body moved in a way during the crash that the crew found disturbing.
A few days later, Jeff asked to see the recording of the crash from inside the car. That was the last mention ever made of the tape.
2011: The Fatal Crash Of Dan Wheldon (ONBOARD)
Dan Wheldon himself died in a somewhat similar accident to Tony Renna in 2011 at the IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dan actually had the onboard camera that day, which ABC switched away from when Wade Cunningham and J.R. Hildebrand made contact to start the tragic mayhem.
Dan attempted to navigate the 15-car pileup, but was unable to. He struck Ernesto Viso’s car and flew into the catchfence. Dan struck his head on a catchfence support beam, killing him. The race was cancelled after the crash, though the drivers still in the race agreed to a five lap tribute to Wheldon, during which Amazing Grace was played over the PA system and the attendees at the speedway stayed respectfully silent.
The full onboard footage is known to exist. In fact, some fans actually viewed it as it happened, as an onboard livestream was being shown on Indycar Mobile for Verizon subscribers only. It hasn’t been shown since, and has never been leaked. A Canadian group requested to use some of the withheld footage for a documentary on the leadup to the IndyCar World Championships and the death of Dan Wheldon, and was granted permission. During the broadcast, the onboard had ended when the accident had begun. The documentary shows up to the impact with Viso, at which point it freezes.
2013: The Fatal Crash Of Jason Leffler
In 2013, popular NASCAR driver Jason Leffler, who had given Toyota its first NASCAR victory when he won an Xfinity race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007, was running a sprint car race at the Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey when he struck the turn four wall very hard. The red flag was waved, and the field stopped immediately, as New Jersey rules require drivers to stop where they are when a red flag flies, even if the position they stop in is inconvenient. Leffler was wearing a restraint to help protect him from being injured by frontal impacts, but did not have one to assist with side-on impacts. This crash was the latter. Medics rushed Leffler to the hospital, but he was beyond saving. Racing was called off for the rest of the weekend.
No footage is available of the impact itself. One spectator’s video ends a lap before the impact, and several aftermath shots are available. It appears that everyone who recorded the footage chose to either give it to the authorities or withhold it.
New Jersey now requires full restraints for all racing in the state.