Some people just love to race. The allure of racing is too much for these individuals, and despite many of them not having the greatest equipment and not being the greatest drivers, they are often loved by the fans simply due to how enjoyable they are to watch.
In August of 2000, one of these drivers slid into his car for what would be the final time. A life changing crash awaited the journeyman, a driver his fans often called the Racing Principal.
David Anspaugh of Sturgis, Michigan was one such journeyman. Anspaugh’s racing career began in the late 1970s, and he had been competing ever since for the love of the sport.
By trade Anspaugh, who was married with no children, was the superintendent of Waldron, Michigan’s school district. The Racing Principal, as he was called, was a popular face, freely talking about his love for racing, giving ideas and tips to students who shared his love and wanted to start racing themselves, and sometimes even showing up to school in his racing suit. Anspaugh also had his students sign the side of his race cars.
Anspaugh, who owned his own team with his brother Frank, moved to the ASA in the 1990s. He was never a frontrunner, but was a respected driver nonetheless. Anspaugh’s best career finish came at the I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Missouri in 1992, where he finished ninth, and he was a frequent midfielder who raced cleanly and enjoyed himself thoroughly.
By the time 2000 arrived however, Anspaugh, 51, found himself struggling to make races. In late August, the ASA wagon train arrived at the Milwaukee Mile for the Time Warner Cable 200 for round 15 of 20. Anspaugh, who hadn’t failed to qualify for any races in 1998 or 1999, had only timed his way into three of the 12 races he’d attempted in 2000. Anspaugh’s name was to show up on the DNQ list yet again when the weekend was over, but this time it would be as a withdrawal.
During the race’s first practice session on August 26th, the #37 1st AYD/Sturgis Middle School 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix suffered a malfunction on the front straight. It was first believed that a brake pad came loose, but later sources claimed that the accelerator hung. In any case, the car spun backwards, hit the wall at top speed, and turned onto its roof, sliding upside down for some distance before eventually rolling back onto its wheels. Anspaugh was unconscious when reached by officials and was extricated from the car through the top. No marks were found on Anspaugh’s helmet, but the beloved superintendent had suffered a severe closed head injury.
Anspaugh was comatose for six weeks before finally awakening, upon which therapy began. Doctors had only given Anspaugh a 1% chance of survival, yet the Racing Principal taught them otherwise, so to speak. Through rigorous therapy, Anspaugh made incredible progress, and when he next returned to his schools in February 2002 for a fundraiser, Anspaugh turned heads. He’d started to walk on his own again, though only for short distances as he otherwise used a wheelchair. He’d regained the ability to swallow, speak full sentences, and read, and his wife was planning on bringing him home. His speech was still somewhat erratic, and he still needed assistance, but Anspaugh was able to perform most actions on his own despite suffering an injury which had killed and incapacitated many other drivers such as Rick Baldwin and Bruce Jacobi. This, unfortunately, was the last update made.
The Racing Principal did not lose his interest in race cars. In fact, when asked in March 2001, Anspaugh indicated that he still wanted to race again, though he never actually got behind the wheel of one again. David Anspaugh passed away on July 23, 2014 at the age of 65 from cancer, though he continues to be a fantastic example of a race car driver returning from the very edge.
“Waldron’s chief suffered brain injuries in stock car”, March 5, 2001 edition of the Toledo Blade
“Victory lap finally in sight”, February 27, 2002 edition of the Toledo Blade
“Death at the Track”, November 11, 2001 special edition of The Charlotte Observer
“Collision with uncertainty”, February 28, 2006 edition of KPC News (date likely wrong, but that’s what is listed)
It’s that time again. NASCAR is off to Charlotte. I did an article on Gary Batson last year, and the year before on Russell Phillips. By process of elimination, it’s time to do an article on the remaining Sportsman fatality, David Arthur Gaines.
The background of the Sportsman Division is likely one you know well from my prior articles, but for those who don’t know, the NASCAR Sportsman Division ran from 1989 to 1996. Its objective was to allow for drivers who were accustomed to short tracks and much lower speeds to receive experience on larger ovals such as the Division’s home base, the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The cars used were old Cup and Busch cars that had had their engines tuned down and speeds lowered considerably. However, the series had many detractors, who believed that lowered speed alone wasn’t enough of a measure to keep the newcomers safe. Wrecks frequently became much worse than they needed to be, as inexperienced drivers panicked when a crash broke out in front of them at speeds much higher than what they were used to. The allure of racing at Charlotte, however, was just too strong for some.
Not much is known about David Arthur Gaines, but what is known is that he was born on January 20th, 1963 in Raleigh, North Carolina and possessed an enjoyment of motorsport for many years. Gaines, a native of Goldston, North Carolina, began competing at the Caraway Speedway in 1985. Gaines, by trade an engineer at an electronics firm, was well known for crafting some rather impressive race engines, which won him three races and scored him 11 second places. He finished second in his division’s points table at Caraway in 1989, and did some other late model racing on the side, including one confirmed race where he raced against the Burtons. According to friends and family, Gaines’ love was racing, and he held his engineering position to fund his race team, which was managed by his father, Jerry, with David’s brother Todd on the box.
Looking to move up, Gaines purchased a 1975 Oldsmobile Omega which had once been used by Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in the Busch Series and entered into the NASCAR Sportsman Division in 1990’s opening event, the Sportsman 100, at Charlotte, to be held May 20th. Pre-race practice sessions were aplenty, as the 72 drivers entered into the race, most of them very new, tried to acclimate to the speedway. They’d have a qualifying session followed by two 20-lap qualifying races to determine the 40-car grid for the 67-lap race. Gaines was one of the drivers acclimating best, with Earnhardt himself giving tips to the new owner of his old car.
During the final practice session before pre-race inspection on May 16th, driver inexperience led to a pileup breaking out in the west turn. In turn three, Ted Comstock of Rockwell, North Carolina spun his car, skidding up the track and sending the Chevrolet of successful Australian stock car racer Terri Sawyer, of Melbourne, into the wall. As Gaines came on scene, his Oldsmobile, possibly numbered 37, was clipped from behind by Stouffville, Ontario’s Peter Gibbons, causing Gaines to strike a set of water barrels on the track’s inside.
Steve McEachern, 29, of Phoenix, approached the site of the wreck with the speedway caution lights still flashing. McEachern piloted his Chevrolet on the inside through the turn at high speed, seemingly attempting to race back to the line. With little time to react, slammed into Gaines’ right rear quarter panel at full speed. The impact knocked McEachern’s car onto its roof. McEachern, an off-road racing specialist who was brand new to speedways, spun several times upside-down before the car hit the grass in the quadoval, sending him back onto his wheels with a vicious bounce.
Rescuers found McEachern conscious in his car, with injuries to his hands, but otherwise fine. Upon reaching Gaines, however, two men, presumably crew members, walked over to Peter Gibbons’ stalled car and put their heads in their hands. Gaines had suffered severe head injuries in the crash, and was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital 20 minutes later.
Sawyer, Gibbons and Comstock all found themselves on the DNQ list. The race itself went on as planned and, somewhat surprisingly, was solid, containing a duel between Robbie Faggart and Charles ‘Tuck’ Trentham to the line, won by Faggart by a bumper.
NASCAR actually did not require Sportsman drivers to test at specific NASCAR-sanctioned racing schools, simply to have experience, a flaw that was swiftly changed in the aftermath. The Division was new at this point, and NASCAR hadn’t seen for itself what this would lead to. Unfortunately, when it did lead to something, it was a fatality. NASCAR clearly tried its best to make the Division work out, sending drivers to one of the best driving schools in the area before they could run a Sportsman race, and making its protocol much stricter. However, as later crashes revealed, it was not meant to be.
“DAVID GAINES DIES IN FATAL CRASH FIVE-CAR ACCIDENT TAKES LIFE OF DRIVER”, May 16th, 1990 edition of the Greensboro Record
“Crash takes life of electrical engineer”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Kokomo Tribune
“Gaines killed at Charlotte”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Anniston Star
“Sportsman driver dies in crash during practice run”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
“NASCAR driver Gaines killed in multi-car crash”, May 17th, 1990 edition of The Tampa Tribune
Eight non-competitors have been killed during NASCAR Cup events, ranging from spectators to policemen to crew members to officials. Today, I’m going to give an overview speaking about what exactly happened and who they were.
On August 19th, 1956, a NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Division race was held at the Bay Meadows Race Track, a one mile oval in San Mateo, California. Though the race was for what’s now called the West Series, it did also count for Grand National points.
With about ten laps to go in the 250 mile race, backmarker Royce Hagerty crashed his car hard into the barrier. With the massive crowd interested to see if Hagerty was all right, several officers rushed onto the scene to keep them away from the fence. Conditions had been terrible that day, and drivers were unable to see very well. As such, there was little Scotty Cain could do when 46-year-old reserve officer Steve Clark of San Mateo stepped in his path.
Cain recalled later that conditions were so terrible that the only way he could see was by wiping away a small square of dirt on his windshield with his left hand. He only realized Clark was there when he struck him.
Clark died at the scene, and the race was stopped with 241/250 laps completed. Hagerty ended up being all right. The Bay Meadows Race Track was not used for any further stock car events, but it remained open to horse racing until 2008.
A third of the way through a race at the recently paved North Wilkesboro Speedway on October 20th, 1957, Tiny Lund threw a wheel on his Pontiac. Another car hit the wheel, and the tire went over the fence and into the crowd. The wheel squarely struck 28-year-old spectator W.R. Thomasson, a mechanic’s helper from Mount Holly, North Carolina. Thomasson died instantly. Also injured in the incident was Frank Campbell of Charlotte, who was released shortly thereafter. A caution was waved, and after both injured men had been taken to the hospital, the race resumed.
Thomasson remains the only spectator fatality in NASCAR’s top series.
PAUL MCDUFFIE, CHARLES SWEATLUND AND JOE TAYLOR
On lap 95 of the 1960 Southern 500 on September 5th, Floridian Bobby Johns was racing alongside independent driver Roy Tyner when the duo collided. The cars entered the pit lane, and to the horror of inaugural World 600 champion Joe Lee Johnson, they were headed right towards him. Johnson, who had been receiving service, sped away from his pit box just in time. Tyner and Johns passed into the pit lane, as there was no wall to separate it at the time, and struck the inside wall, with Tyner’s car bouncing away from the site of impact and Johns’ car backing into the wall at full speed and rolling onto its lid. This sent the concrete blocks which marked the inside wall flying into the pit area.
The pit lane was a mess, with several crew members injured. Three men had been killed in the mayhem, all victims of the blocks. They were identified as 32-year-old Paul McDuffie of Atlanta, Charles Sweatlund of Atlanta, and Joe Taylor of Charlotte. Also injured were mechanics Ralph Byers, R.M. Vermillion Jr., and John Blalock, all of Atlanta, as was bystander A.M. Crawford of North Carolina. Crawford’s injuries were considered minor, Byers and Vermillion Jr. had suffered serious injuries, and Blalock’s were considered critical, though he survived. Johns suffered minor injuries, and Tyner walked away.
McDuffie had been the crew chief for Fireball Roberts during Roberts’ excellent 1958 season, and was both the owner of and a mechanic on Johnson’s car. Sweatlund was also a mechanic for Johnson’s car, and Taylor was a NASCAR official, serving as the assistant inspector to Chief Inspector Norris Friel. Bill Gazaway was reportedly also almost struck.
Joe Lee Johnson withdrew from the race after the incident. NASCAR would eventually order the construction of a barrier to protect the pit lane.
On May 4th, 1975, Richard Petty was making a pit stop during the Winston 500 at Talladega when a fire was detected on a forward wheel bearing. Petty had been leading the race, which was on its 140th lap, so the crew worked frantically to try and put the fire out. Suddenly, an explosion was heard – but it wasn’t from the car.
20-year-old Randy Owens, the brother of Richard’s wife, the late Linda Petty, was tending to the car fire by using a water tank. Shortly after Petty had evacuated the car, the water tank blew up, splitting in two near the base. Owens was struck and instantly killed by the top section of the tank, which struck him in the upper chest and chin. The tank shot 100 feet into the air and came back down, almost striking Richard according to Benny Parsons’ crew chief, Travis Carter. Also injured in the explosion, which soaked the surrounding pit boxes and garage area, was Gary Rodgers, a crew member for Parsons. Rodgers suffered lacerations and was released from the hospital a short time later.
Petty withdrew from the race immediately after the explosion, and NASCAR provided the team with a plane back home. Randy left behind a wife and two children, including future crew chief Trent Owens, who was still an infant at the time. Chief mechanic for the Buddy Baker team Bud Moore suggested that the pop-off valve, a valve used to relieve pressure, may have stuck on the tank, though the exact cause of the explosion appears to have never been discerned.
On March 18th, 1979, Dave Watson, the 1977 ASA champion, was leading the Atlanta 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite the #37 Phil Howard-owned car not being one of the quicker cars on the grid, Watson had done a great job during the season, with one top ten in three races.
Around the race’s one-third mark, Watson was making his pit stop and had just shifted into a lower gear when the transmission locked, leading to the rear wheels skidding. 18-year-old high schooler Dennis Banister Wade, a recent hire for Howard’s team who had worked previously for Janet Guthrie, hopped over the wall with the jack and ran to where Watson was expected to be, only to be confronted by the spinning Monte Carlo. Wade was struck by Watson’s car and died at the scene. Watson withdrew from the race immediately. While his racing career continued, Watson would never race in the highest level of stock car racing again. No caution was flown for the incident. Buddy Baker, incidentially enough, emerged victorious at day’s end.
Bill Gazaway stated that there would be an investigation into the incident, but the results appear to have not been released, though he did not blame Wade, as Wade didn’t run too far out into the pit area. Wade was noted to have ‘frozen’ when Watson spun towards him.
While it isn’t shocking to think of the fact that there was once no pit road speed limit, it’s quite jarring to think that it took until 1990 for one to be put in place. This measure was made, of course, after a pit lane accident.
On November 18th, 1990, race leader Bill Elliott was making his last pit stop of the year at the Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta Int’l Raceway. In the meantime, Ricky Rudd had entered the pit lane at speed and had started to slow to enter his own pit stall. Suddenly, under braking, Rudd’s #10 jerked left and slid backwards into Elliott’s #9, pinning two crew members.
42-year-old Tommy Cole, the jackman, was struck in the back and suffered an arm injury, but was later said to be in good condition. Michael Dawson Rich, the rear tire changer, however, was pinned for several minutes, and he suffered heavy crush injuries and other severe internal trauma. Rich, a 32-year-old married owner of a construction firm from Blairsville, Georgia, was airlifted to Georgia Baptist Hospital, where he died that night of a heart attack. Rich was conscious during transport, and reportedly was more concerned with whether Elliott could return to the race, which Elliott ultimately did not.
This accident led to the introduction of proper pit road speed limits, along with an odd-even system that was meant to ensure that cars had an open spot in front and behind at all times. The odd-even system was ditched shortly thereafter, but the pit road speed limit has remained to this day.
“Racing Cars Kill Officer At Track; Weekend Toll 4”, August 20th, 1956 edition of The Times (San Mateo)
“2 Mechanics And Inspector Killed At Darlington Race”, September 8th, 1960 edition of The Gaffney Ledger
“Gold Thunder: Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion”, book by Rex White and Anne B. Jones
“In Tragedy-Marred Talladega Race, Baker Over Pearson By Inches”, May 5th, 1975 edition of The High Point Enterprise
“Pit Crew Member At Atlanta 500; Man Killed In Racing Tragedy”, March 19th?, 1979 edition of the Charlotte Observer
“Crew member dies of accident suffered in Atlanta Journal 500”, November 18th, 1990 edition of UPI
With high-level racing becoming more and more demanding and expensive, it’s becoming more and more rare to see journeymen who worked low paying jobs during the week spending their weekends racing in the top leagues, with ARCA usually serving as the upper limit nowadays. But there was a day in which America’s workers and laborers could race in the Cup Series and in Indycar, maybe even both, on the weekend. One of these journeymen was Bruce Jacobi.
Born on June 23rd, 1935 in Salem, Indiana as the first of two children of Fred and Helen Jacobi, Harold Bruce Jacobi got his start on the short tracks of Indiana before eventually moving to the USAC Champ Cars. Jacobi was a privateer, going to smaller teams and bringing their cars home. He was never quick, but he could finish. Jacobi attempted 74 races between 1960 and 1970, qualifying for 38 of them. His best finish was at Springfield in 1970, where he finished fourth, and out of the 38 races he made, never ran more than five for the same team.
Jacobi, however, never qualified for the Indianapolis 500, despite six attempts. He failed to qualify in 1962, 1963, and 1966, did not make an attempt in 1967, failed to qualify in 1970, and withdrew in 1973. In the meantime, Jacobi traveled the country, finding rides and running whatever races he could find. From Pennsylvania to California, Jacobi left his mark every which way. In the meantime, Jacobi kept busy with employment as a carpenter.
It was off to NASCAR in 1975, where Jacobi would remain for the next couple of years. Out of 20 races, Jacobi took three top tens, all in 1975, where he ran part time for Opal Voight. This would be Jacobi’s only part time season in NASCAR.
After that, Jacobi hopped between teams and raced in NASCAR every once in awhile while continuing to race back home and all over. In one of these rides, Bruce suffered one of the most violent NASCAR crashes of the 1970s.
During last-chance qualifying for the 1977 World 600, Rick Newsom lost control of his car off of turn four and was blindsided by Jacobi, running the #78 Chevrolet for Tom Goff. Jacobi’s car went airborne and rolled violently end over end down the chute. Despite an impact so hard that it ripped Newsom’s engine out of his car and sent it spinning down the track, Jacobi escaped with minor injuries. Newsom was treated for a foot injury.
This crash, in fact, summarizes Jacobi’s career. He was never a very lucky driver. Wife Yada Jacobi, whom Bruce married in 1969 in a ceremony held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself, recalled an instance where Jacobi was struck by a flywheel at the Brickyard and had to be replaced for the main event, with a young man named Mario Andretti taking over. In fact, according to Yada, with whom Bruce had three children, there was an instance where Bruce was pronounced dead after a crash at a race track in Pennsylvania, only to give a worker a little kick while being wheeled to the morgue. Yet Jacobi loved racing so much that he would sometimes race on a carpenter’s wage. The risks of racing never seemed to faze Jacobi.
Bruce entered Speedweeks 1983 rideless, and decided to head to the speedway to try his luck on picking up a ride. There he came across Bob Meazell, who owned a #05 Colonial Motors/All American Homes Pontiac Grand Prix. Bob needed a driver, as he wasn’t confident in piloting a Pontiac, and the Wednesday before the 500, and only one day before the qualifying races, the two agreed that Bruce would drive the car. On lap 5 of the 50 lap first duel, Bruce was running towards the back on his own when the car broke loose. The exact cause of the crash is unknown, though many drivers reported that it had been extremely windy that day, and that they actually were having their cars lifted off the ground a little. In any case, the #05 spun into the infield off of turn two and went airborne before proceeding to viciously cartwheel through the grass.
The car rolled front over back, back over front, several times through the infield before eventually coming to rest on its wheels near the earth embankment. Jacobi was removed from the car unconscious and was swiftly transported to the hospital with critical brain injuries, likely caused by a partial failure of the roll cage.
Jacobi spent some time in Halifax Hospital before eventually being transported to a nursing home in Indianapolis. He regained partial consciousness sometime thereafter, and would be in this state for four years, his mobility having been severely compromised, though not lost entirely. Yada Jacobi, who had run a few endurance races herself in the 1960s, was frequently at his bedside, and while Bruce never fully regained consciousness, his condition deteriorated when Yada wasn’t at his side. “I think we have a much deeper, more understanding relationship now, although it’s hard to describe.”, she told the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Bruce Jacobi passed away on February 4th, 1987 in the Methodist Hospital at Indianapolis, aged 51. Some of Bruce’s racing memorabilia is stored at the Stevens Museum in Salem, Indiana, serving as a reminder of the days when a laborer’s dream to one day race in the top American series could come true.
“Jacobi Escapes Fire in Charlotte Crash”, May 28th, 1977 issue of The Tennessean
“The wife of gravely injured Bruce Jacobi says her…”, February 23rd, 1983 issue of UPI
“Dying driver was excited about Daytona, wife says”, February 24th, 1983 issue of the Arizona Republic
“A racer’s wife copes with tragedy”, February 22nd, 1983 issue of The Orlando Sentinel
“Jacobi Draws Strength From His Wife, YaDa”, July 4th, 1984 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal
“Bruce Jacobi Nearly Dies Of Pneumonia”, February 16th, 1984 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Raul Alberto Petrich, nicknamed ‘Pepino’ or ‘Cucumber’ due to his height, 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, 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. Raul’s best finish in Turismo Carretera competition, on the other hand, was a third at Parana in 1997.
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.
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.
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.
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 died 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“[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
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.
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.
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.
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 the late Ted 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, to ensure that John will live on.
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