Cancelled Events

Races are very rarely called off. Usually, when races have to be ended, they’ll try their very best to get it in nonetheless. But sometimes, they must cancel, usually due to a fatal crash early on. Let’s take a look at a few of them. All of these had to be completely called off for whatever reason. No points could be salvaged from the events, and they were all declared non races. The whole event must have been cancelled to count. If one race was thrown out, I won’t include it. The races that were called off due to fatalities will be marked with asterisks.

1967: Italian F3 at Caserta*

By the time summer 1967 arrived, the Italian racing community was mourning. They`d recently lost Lorenzo Bandini, who had crashed in Monaco. To make things worse, on June 4th, Italian F3 driver Boley Pittard`s car caught fire on the grid at the start of a race at Monza. Pittard veered his car to the side to prevent a fiery pileup, but was very badly burned in the incident. He died on June 11th.

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Credit to GPX

Italian F3 raced on. It ran Caserta, a 2.8 mile street circuit, on June 18th. Visible from the track sidelines was Reggia di Caserta, the tallest building in Europe to be built in the 1700s.

Caserta
Credit to Theracingline (track was run clockwise)

On lap seven, backmarkers Beat Fehr and Andrea Saltari made contact on the approach to Via Domenico Mondo. The pair crashed hard, and Franco Foresti soon crashed in response. Fehr and Saltari were unhurt, but Foresti broke his leg. Fehr hopped out of the car and started to flag down drivers. After a little while, Fehr left the scene, where he came across a small field that a car had set on fire. He found some off-duty firemen and alerted them to the fire, then returned to the scene of the crash to continue flagging down drivers. During his absence, Jorg Dubler crashed, vaulting into the air and hitting two poles. Dubler was badly hurt, but was able to get out with the help of two soldiers, one of which called for medics. In the meantime, the race continued. On lap nine, Giacomo ‘Geki’ Russo blew a tire on some debris and went off. He struck Fehr and plowed into a concrete barrier. Over the next two laps, the crash collected Clay Reggazoni, Massimo Natili, Corrado Manfredini, Manfred Mohr, G.R. ‘Tiger’ Perdomi, Silvio Moser, and Maurizio Montagnani, with four drivers, Antonio Maglione, Ernesto Brambilla, Sverrir Thoroddsson, and Enzo Corti, dodging the mess. The race was eventually ended on lap 11 when Natili, who was able to drive away, drove to the pits and let officials know. At last, the race was stopped.

Three drivers died in this. Giacomo ‘Geki’ Russo, who was being courted for an F1 ride, was instantly killed when the car hit the wall, which ejected him and split the chassis in two. Geki was a rich man from Milan whose father started a successful tissue company. His family disapproved of racing, which is why he raced as Geki. Beat Fehr died on the way to the hospital, having been struck by Geki’s errant car. G.R. ‘Tiger’ Perdomi was severely injured when his car crumpled. It took 30 minutes to extricate Tiger, who died a week later. He was conscious and alert during his removal, his leg pierced by the tachometer.

Racing never returned to Caserta. Officials decided to cancel any championship aspect that year, as the points leader (Geki) was dead. Geki actually held the points lead until the finale, where Maurizio Montagnani overtook him, but neither man was crowned champion.

1973: MotoGP at Monza*

What exactly caused the events of May 20th, 1973 to turn out the way they did is debatable, but it’s believed that, during the 350cc World Motorcycle Championship (now MotoGP) race at Monza, Walter Villa’s bike had a mechanical issue in the concluding laps, spilling oil everywhere. Rider John Dodds and several journalists alerted officials to the oil, but they were told that the races would continue. Dodds pushed the issue, and was threatened with police and gave up. The field quickly moved on to the 250cc race.

Late in the 350cc race, local boy Renzo Pasolini had blown a piston and retired from the event while running up front, heavily upsetting the popular rider. He got ready for the 250cc race with every intention of riding aggressively to the front of the pack.

Entering turn one on lap one (motorcycles did not use the first chicane at Monza), Pasolini, either unaware or uncaring of the oil, fell and went into the hay bales, sending his bike bouncing along the circuit. Pasolini and Jarno Saarinen were killed in the ensuing pileup, which collected Walter Villa, Borje Jansson, Chas Mortimer, Fosco Giansanti, Hideo Kanaya, Victor Palomo, and at least two others. Pasolini had skipped most of the hay bales and struck the steel guardrail directly, and Saarinen, the defending 250cc champion, was hit in the face by Pasolini’s Harley Davidson. The race was called on lap three, and both it and the 500cc race afterwards were cancelled.

Emanuele Maugliani just barely avoided the minefield of wreckage and suffering in the crash, but was killed a few days later during a race in what is now Slovenia when he crashed and his bike flew into the crowd. Maugliani’s bike killed five spectators and injured many more.

1973: Italian Junior Racers Championship at Monza*

Fifty days after the deaths of Saarinen and Pasolini, more tragedy struck. During the Italian Junior Racers Championship 500cc race, again at Monza, again in the first corner (they still were not using the frontstretch chicane). On lap three, as the field exited the first turn, Renzo Colombini crashed into the guardrail on the track’s outside. Trying to avoid him, Vittorio Altrocchio went into the haybales on the inside of the circuit. The field panicked, and several riders went down, with the pack still bearing down on them.

Colombini struck the bare guardrail, dying instantly. Renato Galtrucco was part of the first pack that had crashed in response, and he had been struck by Carlo Chionio. Galtrucco died shortly after arrival, and Chionio seemed to be in stable condition at first, but it quickly worsened and he died some time later. It apparently took a couple minutes to find Altrocchio – he’d flown over the guardrail and gotten stuck in the tree branches, and even more amazingly was relatively uninjured. Altrocchio suffered some facial injuries, but was released a few hours later.

Motorcycle racing ditched Monza after this. It only returned in 1981, and even to this day mostly national events are held.

1990: Copa Nissan Sunny at Roca Roja*

The Copa Nissan Sunny was a one make series for the Nissan Sunny that got underway in Chile in 1990. Chile had very few major race tracks in 1990, so all but one of the races in the series were at Las Vizcachas in Santiago, the capital. The one race outside of Las Vizcachas was at Roca Roja, in Antofagasta, in the northern part of the country. J.M. Silva entered Roca Roja as the points leader, with Carlos Polanco not far behind.

Polanco started the late November race towards the front. On lap two of the race, Polanco made contact with another car and flipped. The Nissan’s door flew open, and Polanco was thrown from the car, which eventually came to a stop inverted. Polanco died shortly thereafter.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Roca Roja race was immediately cancelled, though the planned Chilean F3 race sometime later went on as intended. The Copa Nissan Sunny’s organizer assigned Silva the title and immediately shut the series down, meaning it only lasted one season. Roca Roja was also done in by the crash, as it saw very few events after 1990. A few years later, a flood struck the area, and being as Antofagasta is just north of the Atacama, it was a vicious one. Roca Roja suffered severe damage and was demolished instead of being rebuilt. It is now a landfill.

1997: Japanese Formula Three at Fuji*

October 19th, 1997. Shigekazu Wakisaka and Tom Coronel made contact while battling for the lead on lap one of the penultimate race of the Japanese F3 season in 1997 at Fuji. Wakisaka turned over, doing several rolls in the sand trap. Coronel, the points leader, came a few inches away from almost certainly being beheaded by Wakisaka’s chassis, and had tire marks on his helmet. The two were able to climb out of their cars unhurt.

As they slowed for the caution, backmarker Takashi Yokoyama, the teammate to Shigekazu Wakisaka, didn’t seem to notice what was going on. While Wakisaka was fast and contending for podium finishes, Yokoyama’s results were very poor, this mostly being due to him running a 1996 model car instead of Wakisaka’s 1997 model car. As usual, Yokoyama had fallen back already and was a few seconds behind everyone. As they slowed on the front chute, Yokoyama approached them at a very high speed. Either he hadn’t noticed the safety car boards or had but was unsighted due to the fairly blind nature of the final corner’s exit, but either way he was running at high speed. Yokoyama’s car struck another one at 160mph, launching him airborne and into a gantry positioned sixteen feet in the air across the circuit. The car shattered, and Yokoyama died instantly. The race was red flagged and called off. Coronel was the champion that year, having secured the title with the race’s cancellation.

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Source unknown; I believe that is Yokoyama at the far right, his roll hoop lining up with the I in ‘Konami’

1999: Indycar at Charlotte*

May 1, 1999. On lap 61 of the Visionaire 500k, the third round of the 1999 Indy Racing League, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Stan Wattles crashed in turn four. Open wheelers are made to break apart in accidents to help dissipate the energy, and that was the case with Wattles’ car. Wattles himself was unscathed. However, Scott Harrington and John Paul, Jr. proceeded to pile into the debris field, sending pieces of Wattles’ car and their own cars, including at least one tire, over the catchfence and into the crowd. While Paul, Jr. and Harrington were both unhurt as well, several fans were injured by the flying debris. The caution flag immediately came out, and the cars were paced around the track as they confirmed injuries. On lap 79, the cars were stopped, and it was announced that there had been fatalities. The race went no further, and, having not yet hit halfway (104 laps), it was declared a non-event. The Indy Racing League never returned to Charlotte.

In all, nine fans were severely injured, and three were killed. They were identified as Jeffrey Patton, Randy Pyatte, and D.B. Mobley. The fan fatalities were announced on air, though their identities were only announced later. A nine year old girl was critically injured, but survived. In 1999, most catchfences jutted straight upwards, but after this a curve to help keep debris in-bounds was mandated.

Interestingly, during the U.S. 500 CART race at Michigan in 1998, Adrian Fernandez crashed in the trioval, throwing debris over the fence and killing three people. The race continued on, so it’s possible that the IRL called the race off to show that it had a sense of decency and thus prevent fans from ditching the IRL for its rival.

2001: CART at Texas

The situation during pre-race for the Firestone Firehawk 600k at the Texas Motor Speedway was one of the most complicated in history, but in short, drivers were experiencing extremely heavy G-Forces.

A few drivers reported to teams that they’d been experiencing the onset of vertigo during practice. CART cars were faster than IRL cars, and usually when it oval raced it ran flat ovals, with the few high banked ovals on its schedule being wide-open. Texas is rather high banked and is a very tight oval, and the added speed made for some incredibly high G-Forces and the very real possibility that drivers would have to withdraw due to fatigue. CART held a driver’s meeting and polled drivers to see who had experienced the symptoms, and to the amazement of everyone, every single hand in the drivers’ section went up. Drivers later explained that they had experienced the symptoms during pre-season testing at the track, but had kept them to themselves, assuming that they were the only ones with those symptoms. Two hours before the green flag was supposed to fly, CART decided, out of concern for the safety of the drivers, to pack up and go home, and the race was never rescheduled. This was yet another piece of straw placed upon the camel’s back as CART started to lose favor with the public. It folded after 2007, and was merged with Indycar.

2005: Italian GT at Imola

Most of the countries that possess permanent race tracks have national Grand Touring series, and Italy is no exception. It’s a fairly nondescript series, and nothing special goes on in it, but it’s always nice to have a series where drivers can show what they’ve got against those of similar skill (not necessarily similar budget, though…), and national level series are extremely important to furthering the careers of aspiring young talents.

26 cars were entered into the season opener in 2005, to be held at the Imola circuit near San Marino. GT cars are quite well known for being absolutely lovely, and the cars that showed up to Imola were no exception. The standard Ferrari 360s and Porsche 996s were on the grid, along with some more obscure cars such as the Saleen S7-R and the Lister Storm. Practice was held on April 2nd.

That same day, Pope John Paul II, who had become the Pope in 1978, died. Organizers chose to cancel the race, which had been scheduled for April 3rd. Oddly, the race was not rescheduled for a later date as is traditional when an event is cancelled due to the death of a prominent figure. As such, Italian GT did not race at Imola whatsoever in 2005, only returning for the season opener in 2006.

2008: NEMA at Thompson*

Midget racing is one of the most popular and common forms of motorsports in the United States. Midgets are also extremely popular in Australia and New Zealand, where they are known as speedcars. These cars are lightweight and easy to turn over, but they’re thrilling to watch. Midgets usually race on short dirt tracks, though they do run paved tracks from time to time.

The NorthEastern Midget Association is a pavement midget series that has been going for well over 60 years. In 2008, one of the racers in the series was Shane Hammond. Hammond had overcome many adversities to even get into a race car, having survived a brain tumor at the age of 15. Race one of the series’ schedule that year brought them to the high banked 0.625 mile Thompson Speedway in Connecticut for the historic track’s season opening weekend. The Thompson Speedway’s season opening weekend, known as The Icebreaker, contains many different events such as late models, modifieds, and of course, the NEMA Midgets. The headliner of The Icebreaker is the NASCAR Modified Tour, with NEMA following not far behind on the ‘priority’ list.

On April 4, 2008, Hammond’s throttle stuck in the entry of a corner and the 27-year-old flew over the wall and into a billboard, collapsing it. The race, which was on lap four of 25, was called off immediately and the races were halted while the track workers removed what was left of the billboard. The NEMA race was not restarted, but after the billboard’s remnants were scrapped, officials decided to continue with The Icebreaker.

Hammond was dead on arrival to the hospital. Spectators were aware of his passing by the final race of the day. NEMA took some time off from the Thompson Speedway for the next few years, but has since returned to the somewhat large one kilometer oval. A new race joined the schedule in 2010 at the Waterford Speedbowl by the name of the Shane Hammond Memorial, and it remained on the schedule until 2016. The Waterford Speedbowl shuttered in early April of 2017 after its owner was arrested, and its future, along with the future of the Shane Hammond Memorial, is uncertain.

2011: Indycar at Las Vegas*

The 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway…where should I even begin with one of the most controversial, destructive, and tragic abortions of a race in motorsports history?

It was announced early in the year that Indycar would be opening up the entry list to the Las Vegas race to non-Indycar drivers. If they received more than five of these entries, a panel would choose which five would be allowed to race. If one of these drivers won, they would receive five million dollars. Two dozen drivers said that they were interested in competing, but only six drivers actually were able to put together deals. All six deals fell apart, however. Scott Speed’s deal fell apart after he didn’t qualify for that year’s Indy 500, Kasey Kahne was dissuaded from running the race by Rick Hendrick, his new car owner, Travis Pastrana’s deal was cancelled when he was injured at the X Games, and the reasons as to why Kimi Raikkonen, Alex Zanardi, and Joey Hand’s deals fell through was never given.

On September 4th, 2011, Indycar announced that there would be no wild cards. It was then announced on September 13th that popular Briton Dan Wheldon, who had spent most of the rest of the year testing the new vehicle model that would be instituted the next year, would start the race in the back, and would split the 5 million with a lucky fan if he managed to win. Entry forms were due on October 6th.

On October 13th, Ann Babenco of New Jersey was chosen as that fan, meaning she’d get a large chunk of money if Dan brought it home in first. Ann got to meet Wheldon, and flew to the track to watch the race live.

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Credit to Daily Mail

Behind the scenes, however, things weren’t so rosy. Drivers were used to the speeds of 225mph, but they heavily questioned Indycar for allowing them on such a thin track. Addtionally, with an entry list of 34 drivers (some of whom very rarely raced in Indycar) and no intention to have anyone fail to qualify, drivers were worried as to how large the packs would be. Indycar ignored both concerns.

On October 16th, 2011, Tony Kanaan led the massive 34 car grid to the green at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dan, who was the in race reporter and had the onboard camera, quickly worked his way through the field. He seemingly played it cool, though other drivers could be heard over their radios swearing frequently and questioning how they’d get through 200 laps. It was only on lap 11 of 200 that tragedy struck.

Contact between J.R. Hildebrand and Wade Cunningham set off a vicious 15 car crash in turn two that sent many cars flying and several rolling. When the wreck began, ABC had been showing Dan’s onboard. Wheldon’s onboard camera was cut away from, but the Verizon subscribers who were watching his view live viewed it all the way through. Dan slammed into the back of Vitor Meira and took off, flying headfirst into the catchfence. The 2001 Indy Lights champion, 2005 Indycar champion, 2005 and 2011 Indy 500 winner, and Indycar veteran had no chance, dying on the helicopter. Pippa Mann and Will Power also turned over in the crash and both suffered injuries. One yellow flag lap was run before the race was red flagged, and several drivers reported that it looked like a bomb had gone off.

INDYCAR: OCT 16 IZOD IndyCar World Championships Presented By Honda - Dan Wheldon Crash
Credit to SEEN Sport Images; 12 (rolling): Will Power, 19 (bottom right): Alex Lloyd, 57 (center right): Tomas Scheckter, 83 (right, adjacent to Power): Charlie Kimball, 4 (pink car): J.R. Hildebrand
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Power hits the wall as Wheldon strikes the fence just off to the left of the shot; Credit to Mirror
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Will Power’s car shortly after his extrication; Note the tarp used to cover Wheldon’s car (which Power’s car landed near); Credit to CBS

The track had suffered severe damage, and with few days left in the year to run the event, the race was likely to be cancelled regardless. In any case, when the confirmation came in that Dan Wheldon was gone, the 19 cars left were lined up three wide and did a 5 lap tribute to Dan with Amazing Grace playing on the PA system and every single crew member and 11 of the 14 other drivers who had crashed (Mann, Hildebrand and Power were still in the hospital, Hildebrand was not seriously injured but was badly shaken) standing by on pit road. 7 of those 33 have not stepped foot in an Indycar since, those being Danica Patrick (who was already planning on leaving beforehand), Davey Hamilton (who fully retired after the crash), Vitor Meira, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, Buddy Rice, and Alex Lloyd. ABC signed off with a last line from Marty Reid that ended with an explanation behind his preferred signoff phrase, ‘Until we meet again’, and that he usually used the phrase due to the finality of ‘Goodbye’ – a word he used to bid farewell to Wheldon as the screen faded.

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Dan’s car; Credit to AP

Dan was officially killed by massive head injuries when his head hit a support pole in the catchfence. The fans who were watching the Verizon livestream saw his accident all the way through, but ABC cut away when the pileup began. The full footage belongs in the hands of Indycar, who have not released it beyond allowing a small extension to be shown for a Canadian documentary on the World Championships. The footage shown in the documentary shows Dan’s onboard as he tries to navigate the minefield, and freezes when Dan hits Vitor Meira.

In the aftermath, the public heard of the safety concerns that the drivers had lodged towards Indycar, and while the drivers mourned, the fans protested. In the end, Indycar lost a large chunk of its fanbase, but has stayed in operation. It had already planned for the Las Vegas race to be the last race with the old car type, as a new car type was to be introduced in 2012. Originally called the IR12, it was eventually renamed the DW12 for Dan.

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Credit to USA Today; Note the covers over the rear wheels meant to prevent wheel to wheel contact, a frequent cause of massive accidents in open wheel racing

Indycar will likely never return to Las Vegas, as the track has been shown to be unsuitable for Indycars after further testing. There were serious talks of never oval racing again in Indycar besides the Indianapolis 500, but Indycar eventually settled on cutting the oval count down to five (currently six). Indycar had been oval only until 2005, and in 2012 they were only running five. Interestingly, the first road course Indycar had run in 2005 had been St. Petersburg, Dan Wheldon’s hometown (Wheldon was actually much more well known in the States than in Britain; He’d moved to the States in 1999, and had become so attached to the United States that his resting place is Pinellas Park, Florida).

Even more so, St. Petersburg was the next race out for the Indycars. The new chassis was implemented for the St. Petersburg race, which was the 2012 season opener (Las Vegas had been intended to be the 2011 finale). Helio Castroneves won, and in one of the loveliest tributes ever seen in racing, drove up to the newly renamed Dan Wheldon Way, one of the roads that makes up the course, and gave his fallen friend a salute.

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Credit to Wikimedia

2011: MotoGP at Malaysia*

One week after the death of Dan Wheldon, on October 23rd, 2011, tragedy struck at Sepang in Malaysia during the MotoGP race. On lap two, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards were running side by side for fifth when they were suddenly blindsided by another rider, who was hanging onto his bike after falling off of it. The pair struck the rider, and all three crashed extremely hard. It was a crash that unfortunately occurs every now and again in motorcycle racing.

Rossi and Edwards eventually rose to their feet, but the other rider wasn’t moving. It was evident by his #58 who he was: Marco Simoncelli, a popular young rider who had been running in fourth. He had lost control of his bike and fallen, and in a last ditch effort to at least bring it to a stop on the inside of the course and continue, had hung on to it. Simoncelli himself had been struck by Rossi and Edwards. Despite medics’ best efforts, the 24-year-old, who was often called Supersic by his fans, was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. A MotoGP race must last three laps in order to be official, and since the crash happened on lap two, the race was abandoned.

Two weeks later at Valencia, an incredible tribute was done for Simoncelli, in which the MotoGP, Moto2, and 125cc (renamed Moto3 the next year) riders all took to the track at once for a lap in memoriam, the first known time that all classes lapped the track together in any context.

When they got back, Paolo, Marco’s father, asked for a somewhat different tribute: something known in Italy as ‘casino’. It’s the opposite of a minute of silence, instead it’s a minute of extremely loud noise, in which everyone gathered attempts to generate as much noise as they can – and so they did, shouting, cheering, banging tools, and even shooting off fireworks.

Marco is remembered with the Misano Circuit in Italy, which has since adopted the full name of ‘Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli’. The #58 will never be available to anyone ever again in the MotoGP, Moto2, or Moto3 series unless they are specifically allowed to run the number by the Simoncelli family.

2012: Russian Racing Championship at Smolensk*

Russia has quite the motorsport fanbase. Circuits have been popping up all over Russia in the past few years. In 2006, Russia only had one permanent track, but as of 2017, I am aware of eight. In fact, there’s even a circuit called the Red Ring located in Siberia.

The Smolenskring is another one of the circuits. It opened in 2010, and sits about halfway between Moscow and the Belarusian border. It’s a fast circuit despite its many twists and turns, which led to tragedy one day a few years after it opened.

On August 19th, 2012, during the second lap of the Super Production race, Yuri Semenchev entered the long, sweeping last turn with no brakes or steering and went straight on into the barrier. The Honda Civic flipped over and violently bounced every which way before eventually coming to rest on its side. Yuri died a few minutes after admission, and the race went no further. All other Russian Racing Championship races that day were also called off.

The top Russian touring car series saw many fatalities in the Soviet era, however Yuri Semenchev was the first driver to die in the series since the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. He was 49 years old, and was rather new to racing. He began racing in 2010, two years before his death.

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The Tragedies At Rafaela: Petrich, Lafeudo, Noya, and Miller

The Autodromo Ciudad De Rafaela, also known as the Autodromo Juan Bascolo, sits just outside the city of Rafaela, northeastern Argentina. It is a bizarre track, being a back-and-forth oval with lightly banked corners and several chicanes, along with a road course for junior series that cuts off half the oval. It is a massive 2.895 mile track, making it even longer than Talladega.

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Credit to Wikipedia

It was built as a massive dirt track in 1952, was paved in 1966, and hosted the USAC Champ Cars in 1971, though it’s been used almost exclusively for national events since. The Turismo Carretera usually runs three chicanes, one towards the end of the front chute, one on the back chute, and a third in turn three (the north turn), though there is a fourth in turn one (the south turn) that is infrequently used.

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Credit to Historia TC

This circuit is where Argentina’s top series, the Turismo Carretera, truly shines. Turismo Carretera, which has existed since 1937 and been under the same ownership since 1939, is technically a stock car series. The series, which mostly runs tracks with more sweeping corners, employs double-file restarts and a Chase system to try and imitate NASCAR as best as it can, yet unlike NASCAR, which has had wavering popularity over the past couple years, Turismo Carretera has continued to be extremely popular. It’s one of the most exciting racing series in existence, but also one of the more dangerous series.

The early days of Turismo Carretera were highlighted by circuits that more closely resembled rally layouts than permanent tracks, and due to this co-drivers were often required. As the series switched to permanent layouts and temporary street circuits, co-drivers became mostly unneeded, though most teams kept them anyway. One of the teams to do this was that of Raul Petrich.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

Raul Alberto Petrich was born in 1958 and started competing in Turismo Carretera in 1989. He used a Dodge in an era when Dodge did not have too many high ranked drivers in the Turismo Carretera, and frequently ran in the top 15 when most of the other drivers running his manufacturer were towards the back. Raul, who was nicknamed ‘Pepino’, or ‘Cucumber’, due to his rather imposing height of 6-foot-3 and his lean body, finished third at Parana in 1997, his best career finish. Raul, whose family owned both a service station and a flour, sugar and coal provider, also competed in the 24 Hours Of Daytona in 1996. The Team Argentina Oldsmobile completed 377 laps in the race before it broke down and retired. Raul’s team finished 36th out of the 76 starters and 11th out of the 29 cars in his class.

Rafaela was an outdated circuit by the late 90s, its barriers having not been updated since the USAC visit. This became evident when driver Guillermo Del Barrio and co-driver Luis Patti went straight on due to a mechanical failure in turn three during a qualifying race in 1997. The car collapsed the guardrail and flew out of the speedway.

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Credit to HistoriaTC

The vehicle rolled violently end over end several times and came back down onto its wheels. Thankfully, the car’s occupants were unhurt besides a few bruises. As the wagon train returned to Rafaela the next year, most competitors kept this in the back of their minds, but officials reassured everyone that the barriers had seen some updating. Evidently, it was not enough.

On July 31st, 1998, two days before the planned main event, Raul Petrich was running a practice session at the circuit. He had a rather fast car and clocked an upper-midfield time, but evidently he thought he could go even faster. Raul explained to his team that he detected an issue with the car’s undercarriage that was holding him back. Oscar Lafeudo, a chassis expert for his team, offered to throw on a driving suit and sit in the co-driver’s seat, which was legal during practice and testing only. Danilo Di Napoli, Raul’s usual co-driver, hopped out of the passenger’s seat, and Oscar hopped in to try and see what needed improving.

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Credit to HistoriaTC; Oscar is the man on the left

The pair ran a few laps, and Raul was called into the pits at 5:45 p.m., with a few minutes left in the session. On what was planned to be his last lap of the day, a tire blew on the #63 Dodge GTX in the south corner of the oval and he went straight on into the wall at about 140mph. The car struck the guardrail, damaging it severely and breaking off the top half of the guardrail. The chunk penetrated the car at the passenger door B-post. The car bounced off of the bottom half of the guardrail and came to a stop in the middle of the corner.

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Credit to Olé

Emergency workers arrived within thirty seconds, but when the first worker looked inside, he immediately signalled to his colleagues that the occupants were dead. 40-year-old Raul Petrich and 44-year-old Oscar Lafeudo had both perished instantly. Petrich had had his chest pieced just below the neck and had been killed by massive internal injuries. Lafeudo, on the other hand, was even worse off. The guardrail had struck him in the neck, cleanly decapitating him.

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Lafeudo’s helmet; Credit to HistoriaTC

The practice session was immediately called off and the race was cancelled shortly thereafter. Competitors mourned the loss of the duo and moved on to the next event with heavy hearts, and Rafaela installed concrete barriers for the series’ next visit the next year. Rafaela, however, continued to be a dangerous track, and it wasn’t long before another man was killed.

On April 30th, 2000, Turismo Carretera’s annual Rafaela trip came around. On lap one of the race, Diego Ponte’s Ford Falcon blew its motor and slid in its own oil. On approach to the third chicane on the entrance of the north turn, the car spun off into the grass and struck a photographer, 44-year-old Roberto Abarza. Abarza died of his injuries, and officials blamed him for standing in a prohibited area. Ponte, whose number, ironically, was 63, was physically unhurt, and the race continued onwards. But it was about to get even worse.

Turismo Carretera has several lower series, one of which is TC Pista. Basically the Turismo Carretera’s Xfinity Series, this is the junior series where drivers can show team owners what they’re made of and hopefully be promoted to Turismo Carretera. Alberto Noya was one of these competitors. By trade a veterinarian, Noya first started competing in TC Pista in 2001, and was a well known figure in the series. Not much is known about his co-driver, Gabriel Miller, but both were from the Buenos Aires area.

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Noya (right); Unsure if that is Miller on the left; Credit to TyC Sports

On July 16th, 2006, Noya was running towards the front of the field after an early restart in the TC Pista event at Rafaela when he spun in a chicane. The #39 Dodge stalled in the chicane, and before the car could be refired, was struck directly in the passenger’s door by Hugo Fayanás’ #33 car.

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Credit to Lagaceta

Despite wearing some sort of head and/or neck restraint, Gabriel Miller, 42, was killed in the crash, the G-forces of the impact having caused extreme head injuries. Though he was extricated alive, 30-year-old Alberto Noya died three days later, his brain having suffered severe trauma due to the massive sudden horizontal movement. Fayanás was uninjured. The race was cancelled on the spot, and shortly thereafter, the Turismo Carretera race was called off. Fans were not pleased by this decision and began setting banners and tires alight, but the officials did not budge. Shortly thereafter, Turismo Carretera made an incredible maneuver.

When Turismo Carretera started in 1937, most races were through the countryside across dirt and pavement surfaces, and due to this, co-drivers were required. They’d stayed throughout the years, but with the death of Miller, along with another crash in 2004 that had also happened at Rafaela (in the same chicane no less) where a co-driver was terribly injured and was in the hospital for two months, the Turismo Carretera decided that their time was up. They were to be done away with after the 2007 season, but not even this was going to stay.

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Credit to Diario El 9 De Julio

On April 22nd, 2007, 40-year-old Guillermo Castellanos was attempting to navigate a crash at Rivadavia when his vehicle was struck near the back axle. It was far from the worst crash in Turismo Carretera history, and Castellanos’ co-driver was able to evacuate the car on his own, but Castellanos was fatally injured, having suffered several massive fractures. Though Guillermo’s co-driver was not badly hurt, it was quickly decided that co-drivers would be disallowed starting at the next event, and as such, a seventy-year tradition ended. Racing, however, continues at Rafaela, and the Turismo Carretera continues to put on incredible shows at the ultra-wide, high-speed oval.

 

Sources:

“[Carrera Nº 917-A] – 10º fecha (suspendida) – Autódromo de Rafaela (02/08/1998)”, November 24th, 2012 post to the HistoriaTC forum

“[Carrera Nº 900] – 9º fecha – Rafaela (20/07/1997)”, May 27th, 2011 post to the HistoriaTC forum

“El dolor golpeó a La Plata”, August 2nd, 1998 post to Olé

“Tragedia”, August 1st, 1998 post to Olé

“La conmovedora historia del piloto, el perro y la veterinaria”, August 23rd, 2006 post to infobae

“Otra tragedia del TC se llevó la vida de Guillermo Castellanos”, April 23rd, 2007 post to La Nacion

“El como y por que del fatal accidente de Rafaela”, undated post to Nuevo ABC Rural

Motorsport Memorial

Who Was John Blewett, III?

It’s back to New Hampshire this weekend. While Loudon is a decent track for NASCAR, the real highlights of the weekend are the Modifieds. The Modifieds are usually incredible at the low banked 1.058 mile oval, hitting speeds so high that the cars require restrictor plates. It’s not rare to have 25 lead changes. The record is 35, but the record for a race that did not end in a green-white-checkered is 30, having occurred in 2000. It was won by John Blewett, III.

In case you don’t know, I’m from New Jersey. Granted, I come from the northern end of the state, but on the rare occasions I do go to races myself, I usually come across many people wearing shirts in tribute to John Blewett, III.

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Credit to Green White Checker

John Blewett, III was born on October 25th, 1973 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey into a family of racers. Both John, Sr. and John, Jr. had many years of experience, and in fact John, Jr. raced in the Winston Modified Tour for a couple of years. By trade, the Blewett family owns a waste disposal company.

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John in either 1992 or 1993; Credit to ARRA

John, who considered Howell, New Jersey to be his hometown, began racing in 1984 and moved to the short tracks in 1992. John quickly found success and even won the NASCAR Regional Northeast division in 1996. He swept several divisions in the waning years of Flemington Speedway’s existence and quickly moved full time to the Whelen Modified Tour. Success came with his move, as Blewett finished third in points in 2001 and 2003. Over the course of his career, John Blewett, III won ten events and four poles, and finished in the top ten in about half his races. He ran many different car numbers across his career, though when he could, John usually preferred the #76.

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John circa 2002; Credit to ARRA

John, however, was most known for his personality. He often worked on his own cars, worked long shifts at his family’s business, and rarely had major sponsorship, or any sponsorship at all besides maybe the aforementioned family business. An extremely fair and outgoing sportsman, John frequently credited his crew members, who were usually handpicked by himself, with his victories, and insisted that the best driver-crew combo almost always won the race. He believed this so passionately that he was once seen looking disappointed for fellow competitor James Civali when Civali lost the Loudon 2006 race due to a scoring error, despite Blewett himself being the beneficiary.

It took effort to anger John, but when mad, John was extremely aggressive, with multiple incidents between him and Ted ‘T.C.’ Christopher reported. In the end, however, John preferred quick capitalizing on mistakes over flat-out wrecking people. John’s racing style netted him the 1996 and 1997 Flemington Speedway track titles, the 1996 New Egypt Speedway track title (New Egypt became a dirt track shortly thereafter), and the Wall Stadium track title in 2006. John also won the 1995 Race Of Champions at Flemington, the 2003 and 2005 North South Shootout Modified race at Concord, and the 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005 Turkey Derbys at Wall. He is documented as having won 97 races since switching to cars in 1992. Additionally, though it wasn’t a race in the traditional sense, John won a battle with colon cancer in early 2005.

In 2001, Jimmy Blewett, John’s younger brother by seven years, started his career. The two raced together frequently both in Modifieds and the Blewett family’s other racing ventures, which included TQ midgets and ISMA supermodifieds. They even finished one-two, John in front, at Stafford in 2006.

John’s 2007 season was an extremely unlucky one. He frequently ran well, but most of his great runs ended early in crashes. He did finish second to his brother at Wall Stadium early in the year, but besides that his year went poorly. He looked to turn this around at the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Thompson on August 16th, 2007.

The 150-lap race was utterly punctuated by cautions, with seven in the first 99 laps alone. James Civali dominated most of the race, but was taken out in a crash just prior to lap 100. John Blewett, III took the lead and held it, but on a restart on lap 107, one of the most heartbreaking accidents in all of motorsport occurred.

Jimmy Blewett in the #12 was racing side by side with his brother’s #66 car when a tire blew on Jimmy’s vehicle in the middle of turn one. Jimmy’s car went straight and struck his brother’s vehicle at speed. The #12 car both jumped on top of the #66 and spun back around, fracturing a piece of Jimmy’s rear bumper and sending it flying into the window net. The net, never meant to deal with such large debris, did not hold, and John was struck in the head. Also collected in the accident was the #79 Pontiac of Woody Pitkat. The red flag was waved almost immediately.

Jimmy Blewett, uninjured, leapt from his car, which had come to rest still atop the #66, and ran over to check on his brother. Seeing that he had suffered heavy injuries, Jimmy began yelling for the safety crew to arrive, which they did within seconds. Drivers parked their cars on the frontstretch, then immediately congregated nearby the scene of the accident to see what would become of John. It took about 25 minutes to extricate him, and he was rushed to the Hubbard Regional Hospital in Webster, Massachusetts, three miles away from the circuit. John Blewett, III likely arrived at the hospital at about 10:30 p.m., 45 minutes after the crash, and was shortly thereafter pronounced dead of massive head injuries. The race had passed half distance and could be declared official, and so it was. Todd Szegedy was given the win.

By four the next morning, Jimmy Blewett had returned back to his home in Howell, New Jersey. The Blewett family somehow managed to sleep a couple of hours, and when they awoke, it was to a front yard abound with flowers. The news of Blewett’s death had spread quickly, and fans had placed flowers in the front yard of their home. The family had a service for Blewett at Wall Stadium on the 18th, in which Modified legend Jamie Tomaino drove Blewett’s car for its final lap of the 0.333 mile oval, and Blewett was laid to rest privately. It would only be one month before Jimmy Blewett was back behind the wheel of a race car, and he finished up the year.

Though the Blewett family team left the NASCAR Modified Tour after 2013, Jimmy Blewett continues to race in the NASCAR Modifieds on occasion, and also still races TQ midgets and IMSA supermodifieds across the Northeast. Blewett, whose nickname is ‘Showtime’, has since adopted his brother’s number of 76. He also serves as the driving coach for his nephew, John Blewett, IV, who entered the Sportsman class at Wall in 2017.

Every year, Wall Stadium holds a 76-lap race for John, III, which Jimmy has won at least once. Wall Stadium has also retired the #76 from further use, though the Blewett family is allowed to use it if they so choose. The North-South Shootout at Concord was also renamed for Blewett.

A caring man and a skilled racer, John Blewett, III is the most recent fatality due to a crash in a NASCAR race run in the United States. Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

Sources:

John Blewett, III’s entry on NJ Sports Heroes

A career win list of John Blewett, III compiled by Fred Voorhees, available on ARRA

‘Crash at Thompson Kills Driver’, August 17th, 2007 edition of the Hartford Courant

‘Speed kills brother in tragic NASCAR nightmare’, August 18th, 2007 edition of the NY Daily News

‘Conn. crash kills auto-racing star’, August 18th, 2007 edition of the Asbury Park Press

Who Was Tom Baldwin, Sr.?

Well, it’s about that time again, time to visit the only race track left on Long Island: Riverhead. Several drivers grew up racing at Riverhead, both old and young, probably the most famous of them being Tom Baldwin, Sr.

The father of Tommy Baldwin and the inspiration behind the #7NY currently run by Donny Lia, Tom Baldwin, Sr.’s booming presence and illustrious career made him a crowd favorite, which made his death behind the wheel even more tragic. Tiger Tom was a popular face whose legacy lives on today across the Northeast.

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Credit to NASCAR Heaven

Born on March 14th, 1947 in East Patchogue, Long Island, Thomas Baldwin, of no relation to Rick Baldwin, began his career in 1964 at speedways such as Islip and Riverhead, the latter of which being his primary circuit. He is documented as having started racing in the NASCAR Modified Division in 1972 and only improved when the cars adopted more of an open-wheel style around 1980. He won 9 races in the National Championship years before 1985, and tended to run very well at Islip before its closure in 1984.

Baldwin continued into the New Era when the Winston Modified Tour was introduced in 1985. He would win six races in the Tour, the first in 1986 and the last in 1996. Tom’s exact win count over his career is unknown, but his win count in his preferred car number, 7NY, totalled 54.

Baldwin’s best year was in 1991, when he finished 10th in the points standings despite missing four races after a bizarre incident. In April of that year, Baldwin was at home when at least two suspects broke into his house. During the crime, Baldwin was shot in the collarbone. The suspects ran out and attempted to flee, but Baldwin hopped on their car’s hood in an attempt to hinder their escape. He was unsuccessful at stopping them and was dumped off the front of the car as the suspects drove off, their identities and stolen possessions uncertain. Baldwin was out for two months, but when he returned, he was back to his old self, running well and continuing to please the crowd.

A big man with a bigger personality, Baldwin wasn’t afraid to make contact to move ahead. In 1997, a young Tony Stewart was asked about his use of the chrome horn after winning a Modified race at New Smyrna, and admitted that he had been inspired by Tom Baldwin. He was also a massive hothead, with one reporter recalling a tirade at Stafford Springs after Tom collided with Ed Flemke, Jr. that was so wild and profanity-laden that the reporter was convinced he’d be fired for talking to Tom (he was not), and Tom was suspended for a race. Track announcer Russ Dowd remembered a promotion in one of Islip Speedway’s divisions where the cleaner racers, or the ‘good guys’, drove white cars, and the rougher racers, or the ‘outlaws’, drove black cars. Tom continued running a black scheme well after the promotion ended, and when he finally switched to a white scheme a few years later, it wasn’t long before he returned to a black one. But when he needed to be, Tom was a humble and caring man who always looked out for his fellow competitors.

Tom made four top level attempts in NASCAR. He attempted the 1997 Truck races at Richmond and second Martinsville for Mike Thompson’s team, followed by the Richmond race the next year in the same series for Billy Hess. Tom made one NASCAR Winston Cup attempt in his career, doing so in 1999 at the second Richmond race for Joe Falk’s #91 team. He qualified for none of these.

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Bob Dillner chats with Baldwin during a rain delay at New Hampshire in 2004; Credit to Speed51

As the new millennium arrived, Baldwin started to show his age a little, and was struggling to qualify on a consistent basis for races. He was still a lovable and popular face when he did qualify, even winning the Most Popular Driver award in 2003, but by 2004, this had become a little less frequent. Tom attempted nine races in 2004, but only qualified for five. Usually when he did qualify, however, he started towards the front.

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Baldwin prepares to qualify for his last event; Credit to Speed51

Thursday, August 19th, 2004 was an extremely wet day in Thompson, Connecticut, but drivers were ready to race, one of them being Baldwin. Eventually, NASCAR decided to give the race the green flag around 11pm, two hours after it was supposed to start. Sean Caisse was the polesitter for the New England Dodge Dealers/Budweiser 150, but Bobby Santos III quickly took the lead. The caution quickly flew for a crash involving Mike Molleur, and drivers were lined back up for a restart on lap 8/150.

As the cavalry ran down the backstretch right after the restart, a car, possibly that of Ken Woolley, Jr., spun. Some people slowed, and some didn’t. Baldwin slowed down slightly and shifted to the inside, only to be hit from the back. The #14 car of Ronnie Silk had also started moving to the inside, only to have the brakes lock up on his vehicle. The #7NY Virginia Motor Speedway Chevrolet Monte Carlo was pitched into a spin through the grass, during which the car hardly slowed due to the prior rain. The car struck a set of concrete blocks protecting an infield light pole directly with the driver’s door and came to a stop in turn three.

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Credit to Speed51

Baldwin was extricated through the roof of his car and was rushed to a hospital just over the border in Massachusetts. Back at Thompson, officials, seeing that a driver had been badly injured, and that the race would almost certainly run very late, decided to call the race and pick it up again on another day. As drivers deparated the speedway, news of Baldwin’s passing began to pour in.

Baldwin’s exact cause of death was never released, but it was confirmed that Baldwin was pronounced dead on arrival. Survived by wife Karen, daughter Tammy, and son Tommy, Jr., Thomas Baldwin, Sr. was 57, making him the oldest competitor fatality in NASCAR. He had raced on at least one occasion against all of the fallen competitors in the NASCAR Modified Tour’s modern era, Richie Evans, Charlie Jarzombek, Corky Cookman, Don Pratt, and Tony Jankowiak, along with the one fallen driver afterwards, John Blewett, III.

With the news of Tom’s death came both condolences and stories of Tom’s past antics, maneuvers, and quips, but also just how caring a man he could be. ‘I just knew him as the craziest SOB I have ever met in my life. Someone who, the first time I ever met him, scared the living @#%$ out of me.’, recalled Donny Lia on his website, ‘As time went on we became friends. And as I progressed as a driver and a person, he offered help in any way whether I asked for it or not.’

‘If you could cut through to the real Tom Baldwin, which not too many people knew, he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.’, said the late John Blewett, III to Speed51, ‘Anytime you needed anything whether it was a part of advice or anything, Tom Baldwin was there for you.’ Ironically, Blewett, III would be killed at the same track during the same race in 2007.

Tommy Baldwin decided to stay at the Michigan International Speedway, where he was busy as rookie Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, over the weekend. It was business as usual at the Evernham camp, as while everyone was devastated by the loss of Tom, Sr., they all still had a job to do. Kahne would finish fifth in the race, one of his 13 top-5s that year. Bizarrely, while Kahne finished second six times in 2004, he would have to wait until the next year for his first win.

The New Hampshire Dodge Dealers/Budweiser 150 was eventually picked up again on August 29th, after Tom, Sr.’s funeral. Sean Caisse, Bobby Santos III, Ken Woolley, Jr., and Ronnie Silk did not return. Donny Lia led for a good chunk of the race around the halfway point, but it was Tony Hirschman who emerged victorious at race’s end.

 

When Tommy Baldwin opened up his own Cup team in 2009, his number choice was obvious: 7. In 2017, it moved to the Modifieds and picked up Donny Lia. For several years, drivers running the #7 would often add ‘NY’ to the car when permissible, and Baldwin’s team continues the tradition. His father is still in the memories of all who knew him as a rather hotheaded, but deeply caring person who put on a show every time he raced. Perhaps it was an unnamed commenter on a message board who put it best:

‘This is a terrible loss, but now Richie E. [Evans] and Charlie J. [Jarzombek] have someone to BS with!’

 

Sources:

‘MODIFIED RACING LOSES TOM BALDWIN, SR.’, article on Speed51

‘MODIFIED COMMUNITY REMEMBERS TOM BALDWIN’, article on Speed51

‘A Recovering Baldwin Finds That Speed Heals’, August 7th, 1991 edition of Newsday

‘Interview of a lifetime’, August 21st, 2004 article on ESPN

‘Tommy Baldwin Racing moves to Modifieds, to field Donny Lia in 2017′, January 11th, 2017 article on Kickin’ The Tires

 

THANK YOU TO NASCARMAN FROM RACING-REFERENCE FOR HELPING ME FIND THE NEWSDAY ARTICLE!

The Forgotten Fatality: Rick Baldwin

In 1980, Alabama inventor George White demonstrated a full head and neck restraint to NASCAR officials, including Bill Gazaway. Gazaway noted that while he had been shown the device, little to no testing of the device’s abilities had been done. It wouldn’t be long before this proved to be a mistake.

Usually remembered for the coma he slipped into after his accident, Rick Baldwin spun and struck the wall during qualifying for a race at Michigan in 1986. The Texan remained in a coma for eleven long years, eventually passing away in 1997.

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Credit to TrackForum

Richard Allen Baldwin was born on June 10th, 1955 in Corpus Christi, Texas to Jim Baldwin and Patricia Owens. Jim, whose owned a roofing company during the day, was also a racer, and taught Rick the tricks of the trade, both in roofing and racing. In 1971, Jim decided to make the trip down to Mexico to participate in the Baja 1000. Rick was to help plot the exact route and to remain on standby with spare parts for their team’s Plymouth. Jim is documented as having entered the race, though any further details are unknown. In any case, in 1972, Rick started his racing career. The pair competed against each other frequently at the quarter mile Corpus Christi Speedway and an old half mile dirt track outside of Corpus Christi known as Cuddihy Field, along with another oval of unknown length just outside the town known as Riverside Raceway.

In December 1977, Rick married Debbie C. Anderson in San Antonio. He would have two children with Debbie, those being Jennifer and Tiffany.

Rick’s first NASCAR start came in 1981 at the Texas World Speedway for DK Ulrich’s team. Baldwin’s car blew its engine about three-quarters through the race, and he finished 21st out of 34 cars. He raced every now and again during the ensuing years, qualifying for the Daytona 500 in 1983, where he finished midfield.

Besides racing at the race tracks in and around Corpus Christi, Rick worked with his father in the family roofing business and also worked as the flagman at Riverside Raceway. He was, by all accounts, a devoted family man with a passion for racing and little to write home about.

Baldwin, together with his wife and children, moved to North Carolina in 1985 as he began to run NASCAR races a little more frequently. In all, Rick made eleven starts, his best finish being 12th at Charlotte in 1982.

Baldwin, a bit of a pinch hitter, was tapped to drive the #67 car for Buddy Arrington for the first Michigan race of 1986. On June 14th, Baldwin was qualifying the car when he broke loose and spun up the first turn. The Ford struck the wall with the driver’s side and slid back down the circuit.

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Screencap

Baldwin was rendered unconscious by the hit, which had severed his spinal column, leading some, such as Baldwin’s wife, to believe that the window net had failed. This couldn’t be determined simply from the video, as the car’s roof was opened to extricate Baldwin, Whether or not his head had actually hit the fence aside, Baldwin’s listed chance of survival was 1%. Surprisingly, Baldwin made it past the first few days, but this was the start of a long eleven-year trial for Debbie.

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Screencap

Baldwin was transferred to a nursing home in San Antonio two weeks after the crash, with Debbie and their children moving into an apartment close by. By early 1988, Baldwin was opening his eyes on occasion and was not attached to any life support systems. Debbie mentioned to the Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal that, since the move to San Antonio, she had not been contacted by any officials. Drivers and crew members, however, still frequently sent letters and called. NASCAR had a $50,000 insurance policy for all drivers, and this had been fully spent around the same time as Baldwin’s move to San Antonio.

In 1990, Debbie Baldwin filed a suit against NASCAR, maintaining that the window net was defective and had bulged. NASCAR insisted that Rick’s head had struck the roll bar. In 1992, a jury, finding no evidence of the window net being defective, ruled in favor of NASCAR, and cleared both Rick Baldwin and NASCAR of any fault. Debbie later stated that she was reluctant to press the suit, but had done so at the request of Rick’s father Jim.

As the years passed, however, it became apparent that Baldwin would not awaken. At at least one point, an offer was made to discontinue feeding Baldwin, which was permitted by Texas law, but Rick’s parents refused. However, they did request that Debbie divorce Rick to ease up on her financial burden. This was declined. Eventually, Rick and Debbie’s children made it to high school. According to Debbie, the girls said that Rick was attempting to set a Guinness World Record for ‘taking a nap’ if anyone asked.

Rick Baldwin passed away on June 12th, 1997, two days after his 42nd birthday. NASCAR’s life insurance contains a $15,000 payout to the families of fallen drivers, but NASCAR declined to pay, insisting that, for the payout to be made, a driver must die less than 90 days after the accident. After a short time, however, they agreed to pay Debbie $15,000 for a decrease or loss of limb function, which went towards the funeral.

By the time the new millennium arrived, several racing series had required the usage of a HANS or Hutchens Devices on all tracks. Despite the fact that full restraints since at least 1980, it took until the summer of 2002, after the death of John Baker, for NASCAR to start requiring full restraints on every track. While Rick Baldwin did not die from a basilar skull fracture, it’s very likely that a full restraint would have saved him.

 

Sources:

‘Rick Baldwin’, post made to LoneStar Speedzone on February 22, 2007

‘Dream Comes True for Local Driver’, July 23, 1971 edition of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

‘Progress not optimistic for injured driver Baldwin’, February 13, 1988 edition of the Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal

‘When Is It Going To Be Enough?’, July 6, 2001 edition of the Orlando Sentinel

‘NASCAR cleared in suit stemming from 1986 crash’, January 19th, 1992 edition of the Herald-Journal

‘Rick Baldwin’, Motorsport Memorial

The Death Of Chris Trickle

It was a case which stumped detectives: A young stock car racer with a bright future ahead of him, a crime that all but required the victim to emerge from his coma, and an archaic law that made the killer exempt from punishment. Today we look at the 1997 murder of Chris Trickle.

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Chris prior to the 1997 season opener (the Southwest Tour opened its seasons in January); Credit to Findagrave

‘Big Chris’ Trickle, the son of Chuck Trickle and the nephew of Midwest racing legend Dick Trickle, was born on May 30th, 1972 in Las Vegas and quickly made his way into motorsports. He made his first start in the NASCAR West Series in 1994 at the Las Vegas Bullring, finishing fourth. He also finished well at Phoenix in his first Southwest start later that year.

Unfortunately, Chris’ #70 Star Nursery Chevrolet, owned by Craig Keough, didn’t last very long, as he totaled it in a crash at Mesa Marin in 1995. Chris returned to competition in an Oldsmobile for one race, and was able to run a Chevrolet in his next race at Tucson.

Chris’ 1996 season went very well. He finished fourth in points with one win at his home track at Las Vegas Bullring and several excellent finishes. Chris also made two NASCAR Truck Series attempts late in the year, qualifying for neither.

Chris was loved by the crowd and his fellow competitors for his big smile and driving skill. Kurt Busch even said in 2013 that he probably would have made it to the Xfinity Series at the very least.

1997 started nicely for Chris and the #70 Star Nursery team. He took a pole in the Tucson opener and finished in the top five at both Tucson and race two, Phoenix. Things were going well for the young talent, however it was not meant to be.

On February 9th, 1997, Chris went out for a meal at Tivoli Gardens near the Liberace Museum with his girlfriend, Jennifer Robinson, and then returned to the Trickles’ mansion. Chris did not live in the mansion proper, but rather in an adjacent one-room apartment.

During the drive home, however, Chris had received a call from Gregory Hadges, a friend of his. Greg asked him if he wanted to go play a round of tennis, and Chris accepted. He ran into the attached apartment where he lived with Jennifer, changed his clothes, and rushed back to his car, a 1995 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Jennifer chose not to attend, and instead stayed behind in the apartment, where she soon fell asleep.

Chris’ mother, Barbara, overheard Chris’ arrival, but was busy making some pudding. She placed it in the freezer after Chris left. Apparently, the pudding still sat in the freezer as of 2008.

Chris pulled onto Blue Diamond Road and started towards the tennis court. Around 9:00 p.m., a car pulled up alongside the LeBaron and an occupant opened fire, hitting Chris between the eyes. The LeBaron spun off the road and into a road sign. Chris was pulled from the car, just barely alive.

From the get-go, detectives were stumped. He had no known enemies, and the bullet could not be extracted due to Chris still being alive. They quickly ran out of reliable leads, and found themselves in a hole. They’d have to hope that Chris emerged from his coma. Chris survived in a semi-comatose state for 409 days, occasionally looking like he would soon awaken and occasionally relapsing. Chris Trickle passed away on March 25, 1998, aged 25.

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Credit to Findagrave

He never fully regained consciousness during that time. It is unknown whether investigators extricated the bullet, though most detectives thought it to be a 9-milimeter round. Even still, it wouldn’t have mattered, as even if the killer had been found, he would not have been charged.

Introduced sometime in the 1200s in England, the Year And A Day Law states that a murderer whose victim who dies more than a year and a day after the attack can’t be held responsible. It was carried over into the United States when independence was gained in 1776. It was an understandable law in the days when one’s cause of death was hard to pinpoint, but now that it’s relatively easy to do so, the law is unneeded. Trickle did indeed die more than a year and a day afterwards, meaning there would be no justice. The Trickle family campaigned for the rule to be thrown out, and it was removed from the lawbooks in March of 1999 in Nevada. Several other states followed, however Nevada’s ruling was not done retroactively, so it did not affect the Chris Trickle case.

The killer of Chris Trickle has never been found, though detectives did suspect it to be a thrill kill. Jennifer, griefstricken, soon drifted away from the Trickle family, and Chuck Trickle raced for a brief period in Chris’ memory, though he’s since retired. As for the #70 Star Nursery car, Craig Keough tapped Sean Monroe to drive the car for a short time while he found a long-term replacement. Keough eventually found that long-term replacement in a 19-year-old kid named Kurt Busch. Kurt finished well on several occasions in 1997, then won the first race after Chris’ death in 1998, which ironically enough was at Las Vegas. A Southwest Tour championship in 1999 secured him a Truck Series ride in 2000, after which it was off to Cup, where he continues racing to this day.

Chris Trickle’s legacy lives on both in Kurt and ‘Little’ Chris Trickle, the nephew of ‘Big’ Chris and a successful super late model racer in his own right. He is one of only three major race car drivers to have been murdered in the past 40 years, the other two being off road legend Mickey Thompson and West Coast veteran Jim Cook. Oddly, Cook’s murder is also unsolved, and while technically Thompson’s murder is solved, the guilt of the man convicted for Thompson’s death is still questioned.

Chris Trickle was a rising talent with an incredibly bright future, and it’s a shame he never got to show what he was truly capable of.

 

If you have any information about the death of Chris Trickle, please call the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Cold Case Unit at 702-828-8973. The case is not currently being looked into by anyone. The Trickles have stated that they are no longer concerned about the case’s closure, however there was a reward of $35,000 available to anyone whose information leads to the case being closed. I cannot confirm whether or not it is still being offered.

 

Sources:

“Kurt Busch looks back on his big break”, April 11, 2013 edition of USAToday

“A Checkered Saga”, Feb. 28, 2008 edition of Las Vegas Sun

When It Comes Down: Who Was Michael Roberts?

The basilar skull fracture is an injury in which the base of the skull suffers a fracture, damaging the surrounding membranes. It usually occurs in front-end impacts, and is very rarely seen outside motorsports. The basilar skull fracture is often fatal, though not always.

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Credit to The Charlotte Observer

Michael Roberts is the most recent NASCAR driver to have been killed by a basilar skull fracture. Roberts shares some odd similarities with Dale Earnhardt, but one major difference was their experience: Earnhardt had over thirty years of racing under his belt, but Roberts was brand new to the sport.

Roberts was born on May 16th, 1950 in Milwaukee. Nothing is known about him beyond the following. Michael considered Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin to be his home, and was married to a woman named Dolores, whom he had one daughter with. By 2001, the two had separated for whatever reason. Their daughter, Taylor, chose to live with Michael.

Michael operated an unknown business in the Fort Atkinson area, and was rather successful as a businessman. He always harbored the dream to race, and eventually purchased a race car that he intended to run in the NASCAR ReMax Challenge Series, also known as the NASCAR Midwest Series.

Michael spent over $100,000 dollars on safety, and had even ordered a HANS device which was to arrive sometime in the late spring of 2001. He’d also hired Michael Loescher, one of the best driving coaches in the country, to coach him during his training. However, according to his sister, Michael Roberts still didn’t understand the dangers of racing.

On March 24th, 2001, Michael was testing his car at Lebanon I-44 Speedway, a 0.375 mile oval in Missouri, when the car suffered an unknown failure and went straight on into the wall. Michael Roberts, 50, died within ten seconds. It was the first fatality at Lebanon I-44 Speedway since it opened in 1989, and is the only death at the track to date.

Loescher witnessed the crash, and ran over to assist Roberts, but it was nothing doing. “These damned NASCAR cars,” Loescher recalled thinking, “They’re too rigid, and they don’t have enough crush zone in them.” (Orlando Sentinel)

Oddly, Michael Roberts shares several similarities with Dale Earnhardt. They were both of about the same age, they both had daughters named Taylor, and both died the same way: a basilar skull fracture. Roberts was the fifth NASCAR driver to die of a basilar skull fracture in 11 months, and is the most recent NASCAR driver to die of one. Hopefully, he’s the last.

 

Source:

“NASCAR Legend or Rookie, Skull Injury Still Kills”, April 8, 2001 edition of Orlando Sentinel