The Survival Of Alex Zanardi


Also note that there will be no input from me, as I have never – and will never – listen to how the English broadcasters reacted to the crash. Blood is visible in the photos I will be showing.

On September 11th, 2001, the United States of America was attacked, and almost three thousand innocent lives were ended. Motorsport paid tribute in many different ways, and several races were either postponed or cancelled, including the NASCAR race in New Hampshire, which would eventually be held under the freezing late November sun. On the other hand, the planned German 500 CART race at Eurospeedway Lausitz in Germany was still held, but it did receive a name change to the American Memorial. Horrifyingly, the American Memorial almost saw the end of an extremely experienced and beloved veteran’s life in what is sometimes seen as the most violent non-fatal crash in all of open wheel racing.

Alex Zanardi (at right); Credit to

If there’s one word that can describe Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi, it’s ‘daredevil’. Born in 1966 in Italy, Alex began karting at the age of four and eventually moved to Italian F3. He did well despite subpar speed, and eventually found his way into Formula 3000 in 1991, where he finished second.

Zanardi c. 1992; Credit to

In 1991, Zanardi made his debut in Formula One for Jordan. He finished ninth on debut in Spain, which wasn’t a points spot at the time, but was still a good run. He retired in Japan, and came home ninth again at Australia. In 1992, he attempted three races for Minardi, only qualifying for one, and even then he didn’t even last a lap in that one race. Zanardi switched to Lotus in 1993 and ran well when he finished, even netting a point with a sixth place at Brazil. Unfortunately, his season ended early after he was concussed during practice at Belgium. 1994 went terribly for Zanardi, and Lotus folded their team at year’s end. Zanardi spent 1995 racing sports cars, and during the fall traveled to the United States to see if he could find a ride in CART. He tested with Chip Ganassi and impressed them enough to secure a full time berth in 1996. Though his season started poorly, Zanardi started to pick up the pace, and at season’s end he was third in the points with three wins, one of these coming when he dove the car into the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca on the last lap to pass Bryan Herta. This move, known as “The Pass”, was ruled legal, but is no longer permitted.

Credit to Flickr

Zanardi was a very popular driver on the CART scene. He often got himself into unneeded crashes, but when he finished races cleanly, it was usually towards the front. He won the 1997 and 1998 titles in CART with five wins in 1997 and seven, including four in a row, in 1998. However, Zanardi decided to depart CART for F1 in 1999, signing a contract with Williams. He never scored a point that year, and returned to the States in 2000. Zanardi spent the year testing, and eventually signed with Mo Nunn Racing in 2001.

On September 15th, 2001, Zanardi was leading at Lausitz, a new 2.023 mile oval in Klettwitz, Germany. The race, unlike many other major motorsport events, had not been cancelled, but had been renamed to the American Memorial in tribute to the lives lost during 9/11. The CART drivers were in Germany for a two race jaunt, with another race at the new speedway in Rockingham-Corby, UK coming up shortly thereafter. Zanardi had had a poor year for Mo Nunn Racing. He hadn’t won anything, and had a best finish of fourth. The pressure seemingly got to him when he floored the accelerator a little too hard while leaving the pit lane on lap 142 of 154, something he later admitted was likely on him.

Patrick Carpentier was informed over the radio that Zanardi was approaching. He was running up front, though he wasn’t right behind Zanardi, who was leading by thirty seconds. As Carpentier approached the merging Zanardi, he was stunned to see the #66 car spin. Looking for a lane, Carpentier swerved up the circuit and missed Zanardi by an inch. Unfortunately, Alex Tagliani was right behind Carpentier. His #33 car ran unsighted and full-bore towards Zanardi. He simply was unable to see it coming. Tagliani saw that he was too close to Zanardi to fully circumvent the #66, so he flicked his car to the left a little (which was revealed to have saved them both, as if Tagliani hadn’t aimed for the front, Zanardi would have perished instantly, and it’s likely Tagliani would have as well) and braced. Tagliani remembered screaming in his head, but Zanardi stated that he does not recall his reaction. In fact, the last thing he recalls was driver introductions that day.


Tagliani obliterated Zanardi’s Reynard at about 195mph, sending the #33 airborne and shearing off the #66’s front end completely and sending the rest of the car spinning around several times until it came to a stop near the wall, Zanardi facing away from the crowd. The race was yellow flagged and finished under caution, with Kenny Br├Ąck being handed the win. In the meantime, officials rushed over to the scene, in disbelief.

Credit to
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Credit to The Fastlane
Credit to The Fastlane
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Credit to Documenting Reality

The crash had done ungodly damage to Zanardi. Shrapnel and other pieces had gone flying, and the front of the car had been torn off. Even worse, Zanardi’s legs were completely destroyed, with director of medical affairs Steve Olvey noting that his legs had exploded as if he’d stepped on a land mine. His right leg was gone at the knee, and only a few inches of the upper left leg remained. He was bleeding out.

A recent photo of Trammell; Credit to IndyCar
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Credit to The Fastlane

Chief orthopedic consultant Terry Trammell arrived on scene in a truck. From the truck, he thought he saw an oil slick on the circuit. When he stepped on the circuit, however, he noticed that the oil was actually blood, and before he could avoid it, Trammell had slipped. Trammell got back to his feet, slipped again, and then traveled to the scene on his knees. Trammell was stunned by the awful injuries suffered by Zanardi. His femoral arteries were both severed, and he was gushing blood “like a hose” (SI). Trammell opened an airway for Zanardi and used the remaining skin on his right leg to fold over the wound, after which he formed a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding. The left leg was another story, as there was not enough left there for the same procedure. As a last resort, Trammell used a crewman’s belt to stop the bleeding, only for it to loosen as Zanardi was loaded into the ambulance.

Credit to sportsnet; Note that the green-uniformed man is Steve Olvey

Olvey decided to request a chopper to take Zanardi to Berlin, and the chopper met the ambulance at the hospital. He was given a fifty-fifty shot of surviving the 50 kilometer trip to Berlin, and as such was given last rites from a priest. Olvey and Trammell went inside the hospital to go check up on Tagliani, who himself was injured, though not seriously. When they left, to their horror, they saw that the chopper was still outside the hospital, the German medics seemingly trying to stabilize Zanardi inside the chopper itself. It had been a little under nineteen minutes since the tourniquets had been applied, and Olvey knew that Zanardi’s chances had decreased further. Olvey recalled taking the pilot by his shirt and demanding he leave, first in English, then in the little German he knew. Within a few seconds, the chopper had departed.

Zanardi arrived at a trauma unit in Berlin fifty-six minutes after the crash. He’d already gone into cardiac arrest once on the chopper, and his vital signs were incredibly low. The average adult has a blood pressure between 120/80 and 140/90, a hemoglobin count of 16, and four liters of blood in his or her body. Zanardi’s blood pressure was 60/0, his hemoglobin count was 3, and he only had one liter left of blood. Daniela Zanardi, his spouse, arrived some time thereafter. According to Ashley Judd, then-wife of Dario Franchitti, Daniela Zanardi took the news of Zanardi’s legs very well.

Zanardi, his wounds finally secured and closed as best as they could, went into surgery some time thereafter, where his legs were completely removed, and was awakened out of a coma three days later. He’d lost his legs, and had a long rehabilitation in his future, but he was alive.


Zanardi, who specially designed his own prosthetic legs, eventually returned to racing. He ran thirteen laps in a special car before CART’s return trip to Lausitz in 2003, those being the thirteen laps he never finished, and began running touring cars. He won several races in the World Touring Car Championship and also ran GT3 events such as Blancpain GT. He has since mostly retired from racing cars, though Zanardi does still run occasional races here and there as a special guest in mostly national events. Additionally, Zanardi competed in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics. He took two golds in London, including the Road Race event, which was partially held at Brands Hatch, and won two more golds at Rio. He’s still going strong, and he’s still as inspirational as ever.




“After the Miracle Having barely survived a horrific crash in which he lost both legs, Alex Zanardi is attacking rehab with the same passion and purpose that made him a racing champion”, Sports Illustrated, April 15, 2002

“Zanardi Loses His Legs in Crash”, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2001

“Zanardi crash ‘like bomb had gone off'”, Crash.Net, September 21, 2001


Face To Face: How NOT To Set Up An Interview

This comes from personal experience, I’m sorry to say.

A couple of months ago, I had an idea for an article. Jerry Caminito, a native of Jackson, New Jersey, was a privateer drag racer for many years and is famous for suffering an absolutely MASSIVE accident in 1994 at the Memphis Motorsports Park.

Caminito was doing a practice run in his Funny Car when his rear skid plate came loose. Caminito veered straight into the guardrail and crashed at 279mph, sending the car over the wall and into a deathroll. Caminito was tossed about in the crash, and when the car finally came to a stop, his legs could be seen sticking out of the rollcage.

Caminito somehow survived this accident with few permanent injuries, and returned to drag racing the next year.

There wasn’t much available on Caminito, so I contacted him for an interview. However, the way I conducted myself was very unprofessional. I wasn’t rude or anything, but my responses were very distant, and in retrospect, seemed almost faked. I started everything off with ‘Dear Mr. Caminito’, and spoke in such a manner that it seemed like I was putting him on a pedestal. Even worse, when he agreed to the interview, I said that I would be leaving for a few days (which I was, for personal reasons, though this had been planned for several weeks). I believe he was simply fed up and decided not to respond any further, which, looking back on it, I can justify. If I was in his shoes, I likely would have as well.

Props to Mr. Caminito for not giving up after his crash, he is a true fighter.

Nowadays, I’ve learned how to speak to others.

Step 1: Apologize for interrupting them, AKA ‘Sorry if I’m bothering you’

Step 2: State your interests and purpose, AKA ‘I’m a journalist with a focus on motorsports and I thought you may know something about _____________’

Step 3: Wait for a response

Step 4: Just be natural from there, be respectful and use proper grammar, but you don’t have to be overprofessional (because that IS a thing)

Soooo yeah, that’s my biggest screwup as a journalist, hopefully I learned something from it and it never happens again.

Author’s Note: Two Apologies

I’ve got two things to apologize for.

First, I apologize for the rather insensitive use of the post-crash photo of Peter Lenz. That article is far from my best, and one of the many errors I made was to assume that the image link would show up instead of the image itself. Therefore, I blurred the image and reposted it.

Second, I apologize for lack of material. I blog on another site (known as racing reference, which is a site for collecting race results, though it does have a blog section) and repost my blogs here, but haven’t done much beyond a Top 50 list that I will repost here upon its completion. The upside to this all is that any errors I made on racing reference, which does not allow you to edit your blogs once you’ve posted them, can be fixed here.

I will hopefully finish the list and repost the whole thing in early January. Until then, I’ll see you guys round.