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
This idea came to me one day when I was sent a very rare photo by a friend of a crash at Daytona that really no one knows about. I decided I’d chronicle a few flips in NASCAR that no one knows about. Not much more to say, so let’s get started. This is in chronological order. These all come from various flip lists on the internet, most notably CrashTwice’s list, which can be found in a link at the bottom. Also used were a list I found on Reddit and another on rubbins-racin, both of which are also at the bottom. None of them are complete, but all have been excellent references.
There are actually many more beyond these baker’s dozen, and there were even some I couldn’t find any documentation on beyond confirmation that the driver had crashed during the race, or even none at all besides their entry on the lists. See if you can find information on them.
1. JUNIOR JOHNSON (1959, GRAND NATIONAL, HICKORY)
This crash perfectly summarized the racing of the day and its competitors.
During practice for a 1959 race at Hickory, Junior Johnson upended his 1957 Ford. The car flopped back onto its wheels, and Johnson drove it back to the pits. The crew surveyed the damage, repaired the car, and, using the very same car (as backup cars were not permitted in those days), Johnson went on to win the pole and, after a very hard-fought battle, the 250 lap race itself.
2. JESSE SAMPLES (1965, GRAND NATIONAL, ATLANTA)
A driver’s lone start doesn’t go according to plan…
Jesse Samples plowed his #96 Chevy into the barrier during the 1965 Dixie 400 at Atlanta. The car pierced the barrier, sending the car upside down and damaging the barrier severely. The 1963 Chevy was a complete write-off, but Samples was all right. This would prove to be his only start.
3. DAREL DIERINGER (1966, GRAND NATIONAL, RICHMOND)
Darel Dieringer managed to upend his #16 Mercury Marauder at what is now the Richmond International Raceway in 1966. The crash happened when Dieringer went straight on into the wall, which he then climbed. Dieringer was unhurt.
4. RICHARD CHILDRESS (1972, WINSTON CUP, TEXAS WORLD)
It’s very hard to believe that once upon a time Richard Childress was just another independent driver on a shoestring budget.
About two thirds of the way through the 1972 Lone Star 500, a race well remembered for being run during a heat wave, Richard Childress was running on his own when Doc Faustina blew his engine. Childress tried to get out of the way of Faustina, but ended up rolling his #96 Chevrolet three times down turn two, landing in a ditch. Childress was only bruised.
5. BRUCE JACOBI (1977, WINSTON CUP, CHARLOTTE)
A truly vicious crash remembered by few.
During last chance qualifying for the 1977 World 600, Rick Newsom lost control of his car off of turn four and struck the wall. As the car came down the track, the #78 Chevrolet of Bruce Jacobi plowed into Newsom. The contact was so hard that it jarred Jacobi into the air and for several rolls down the apron before it came to rest on its door. Newsom’s engine was ripped out of the car by the impact. Newsom suffered a broken leg, but Jacobi was removed from the car with only bruises.
6. BLACKIE WANGERIN (1979, WINSTON CUP, MICHIGAN)
Another vicious one that is not remembered very much.
On lap 2 of the 1979 Champion Spark Plug 400, H.B. Bailey lost an engine and spun his car through turn three. The #39 Mercury of Blackie Wangerin struck Bailey’s car at high speed, then proceeded to strike the wall with such force that his car jumped the wall as if he was a pole vaulter driving his pole into the ground. The car took out several fence posts as it flew and turned over, eventually coming back down to earth and sliding down the opposing embankment. Wangerin suffered injuries to his abdomen and arm, though what exactly they were was not disclosed. The race was red flagged for about forty minutes for repairs.
Baxter Price’s #45 Oldsmobile suffered heavy damage in the crash, though he eventually returned to the race without bumpers, a hood and a grill.
7. BOBBY BALLANTINE (1981, LATE MODEL SPORTSMAN, DAYTONA)
Yet another extremely violent crash.
Ellicott City, Maryland native Bobby Ballantine lost control of his car off of turn four during the 1981 Sportsman 300, which had been rained out early on on Saturday and was being completed the Monday after the 500. The #1 Pontiac went airborne and rolled wildly through the air, doing several spectacular twists and turns before coming to rest on its wheels. Ballantine was injured, but he’d return to his local short tracks within a few months.
8. MIKE MESSER (1983, LATE MODEL SPORTSMAN, BRISTOL)
Bristol is very bizarre.
Short track racer Mike Messer spun his car into the turn two wall during the 1983 Southeastern 150 Late Model Sportsman race. The car flipped over after hitting the wall and slid on its roof down the backstretch before hitting the turn three wall and rolling down the banking. The #27 7-Up Pontiac was utterly demolished, but Messer was all right and stepped out of his car under his own power.
9. CHARLIE RUDOLPH (1988, WINSTON CUP, DAYTONA)
Fun fact, I’ve actually seen Charlie’s son Erick in action in TQ events, and he’s really good.
During Tuesday practice for the 1988 Daytona 500, Charlie Rudolph was rounding the tri-oval when he came across Ernie Irvan’s slower car running along the apron. The pair disagreed as to what happened. Rudolph said that he lost it in Irvan’s dirty air, while Irvan said Rudolph must have broken something and darted sideways right in front of Irvan. In any case, air got under Rudolph’s car, likely helped by Irvan, and the Ransomville, NY native’s #72 Pontiac was sent for several rolls. Richard Petty and Bobby Hillin were also collected. All drivers were unhurt, but Rudolph had to withdraw. Though Rudolph indicated he had another car to run the rest of the season with, he never made another Cup attempt.
10. BILLY STANDRIDGE (1990, BUSCH SERIES, DAYTONA)
Here’s the crash that piqued my interest in doing this article.
Billy Standridge flipped his #47 Standridge Auto Parts Pontiac all on its own down one of the short chutes during Monday practice for the 1990 Goody’s 300 at Daytona. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what happened due to the heavy damage specifically to the car’s rear, but in any case Standridge was unhurt.
11. RICH WOODLAND, JR. (1994, WINSTON CUP, SONOMA)
That’s not what they mean by a flying lap…
West Series competitor Rich Woodland, Jr.’s car shot off of turn ten during his qualifying lap while attempting to make the 1994 Save Mart Supermarkets 300. The #86W Oldsmobile struck the tires, flew over the wall, and landed upside down in the parking area. Woodland was unhurt, but of course, having crashed on his qualifying lap, he’d be flipping burgers, so to speak.
12. SHANE HALL (2000, BUSCH SERIES, LAS VEGAS)
This was a violent, violent crash that is frequently forgotten about, probably because it happened during testing.
On January 31st, 2000, Shane Hall was running in a Busch Series test session at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his car suffered a steering column failure exiting turn two. It glanced off the outside wall, then darted back across the track directly towards the inside wall at a critical angle. What could have very well been a tragic crash was mitigated somewhat by a tire wall that had been set up down the back chute for some road racing, but the end result was still terrifying. Hall’s #0 Ohio State University Chevrolet slammed the tire wall and flew into the air, sending his car for no less than five jarring rolls. The car was demolished, and Hall suffered a broken left ankle, but he was back behind the wheel within a day.
13. BRIAN VICKERS (2002, BUSCH SERIES, ROCKINGHAM)
This one has been thrown around for the past few years, but I actually have confirmation that it happened.
I was never able to find much on this crash, which occurred during a test session. I actually had to ask the man himself, and was unfortunately not given much info. But whatever happened, one thing’s for sure. During a test session at Rockingham in 2002, Brian Vickers blew a tire exiting turn two and found his #29 on its lid, presumably after hitting the oddly-sloped backstretch wall.
19. THE GATES AT BRISTOL (1990 AND 2002, NASCAR BUSCH, BRISTOL)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 42ND
Probably one of the more horrifying kinds of accident in motorsports is when the car gets cut in half. This is very rare, but it has happened, usually occurring when a car hits an unsecured gate or gets struck especially hard.
Bristol Motor Speedway knows this too well.
In 1990, Michael Waltrip made contact with Robert Pressley during the Busch race and shot up into the turn two wall. The car struck an improperly secured gate and plowed the end of the barrier, sawing the car in two. It was a tense couple of moments, but miraculously Michael stepped out of the car, and he was all right.
During practice in 2002, Mike Harmon hit the same gate at a more glancing angle rather than Waltrip’s more straight-on angle. Harmon’s car burst open, and Harmon was left exposed to oncoming traffic. Johnny Sauter piled into the wreckage, coming about a foot away from hitting Harmon directly. According to expeditersonline, Sauter was convinced he had just killed Harmon, but was eventually calmed down and told otherwise. Apparently, the hit was so close to the driver’s compartment that officials later found Harmon’s steering block in what was left of Sauter’s car. Harmon was battered and bruised, but all in all okay.
Tracks are slowly moving away from gates and are beginning to start using to use underground tunnels to get from the outside of the track to the inside. Due to Bristol’s very compressed nature, track owners were reluctant to make the transition, but when they saw the alternative…
During a combined sports and touring car race at the then-new Slovakiaring in 2010, driver Marcel Kusin stalled his BMW on the track, warranting a safety car. The drivers were told to slow and get in one lane, but for some reason several drivers decided to both speed and run whichever lane they wanted.
Poland’s Radoslaw Kordecki, piloting a Ferrari 430 GT3, ended up being in the same lane as the stopped BMW and veered hard to the left in an attempt to avoid a terrible collision. He successfully dodged the BMW, but not the guardrail.
The Ferrari vaulted the barrier and did several rolls before coming to rest in a fiery heap of scrap. The safety crews were on scene within 25 seconds, and they quickly got to work on getting Radoslaw out of the car. Kordecki was conscious and alert, having suffered second degree burns and a concussion according to Nový Cas, and within a few minutes he was off to a local hospital. He declined treatment beyond what was given in the emergency room and headed home. Kordecki has since switched to racing Porsches.
17. BLOW UP DOLL (1983, IMSA, SEBRING)
NEW TO LIST
Sebring was…bizarre in its early years.
I could honestly fill this entire list with Sebring hijinx. But I’m only going to include one incident per race on this list with the exception of Indy, and so I have to abide by the rule. So I chose the most bizarre of what I could find.
1983 was one of the stranger years for the 12 hour race. Between someone stealing the pace car to buy groceries, a man selling spectators firewood which would promptly be confiscated upon entry to the circuit, temperatures so unseasonably cold that some fans dismantled a wooden shack for firewood, a few drivers (Hurley Haywood included) getting lost while navigating a new section of the runways and driving into a cow pasture, a safety car period so an overloaded fuel truck could cross the track, and a drunk man wandering onto the circuit while apparently looking for his dog, I had many choices in 1983 alone, but eventually settled with this one:
Partway through the race, one of the Porsche 935s stalled and needed to be towed back to the pits. During the towing process, several fans took it upon themselves to steal bits off the car, as was once traditional at Le Mans. What wasn’t traditional was the fact that, according to shiftinglanes, the unnamed team found that a blowup doll in the car when it was returned to the pits.
At the end of the 12 hours, it was the Wayne Baker owned Class GTO Porsche 934 of all things in victory lane after all the GTPs ran into problems, which, frankly, sums up a wild race perfectly.
16. HAIL AT THE NURBURGRING (2016, VLN, NURBURGRING)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 7TH
The Nurburgring Nordschleife is one of the trickiest tracks in existence, and is supremely difficult even in the dry. In the wet, it becomes a horror show for the drivers.
In the hail, well…
The 2016 24h Nurburgring saw well over two hundred starters as is the norm, from Ferraris to Ford Fiestas and everything in between. Not even an hour into the race, a rainstorm began, which soon turned to hail. The storm was extremely fierce, and it caused many drivers to go slipsliding off the track, including all of the TCR cars, which had been invited to take part for the first time. The race was red flagged for about four hours as the conditions continued to only get worse, as a massive sheet of what looked like plastic began to coat the track. It was some of the strangest weather ever seen during a race, and it ruined what could have easily been a distance-record setting race. Even still, the race eventually ended in a record as Mercedes swept the top four spots.
15. TRAVERSO WINS WHILE ON FIRE (1988, TC2000, GENERAL ROCA)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 16TH
Argentine racing is wild, as drivers frequently are aggressive and willing to dump other drivers for position. Frequent high speed sectors and a very relaxed damage policy can lead to some amazing moments.
During the TC2000 touring car race at the General Roca circuit in 1988, a pair of Renault Fuegos of José Maria Traverso and Silvio Oltra were the main pair dueling for first in this race, which was only the second race of the year, and they put on a whale of a show.
Four laps from the end, a fire began under Traverso’s car. The fire, which according to carburando began in the car’s exhaust area, only got worse as time went on. As Oltra trailed behind, he began to notice something piling up on his windshield, which turned out to be Traverso’s lubricant being thrown from the exhaust. Traverso knew something was wrong immediately with smoke permeating through the cockpit to the point that he had to lower a window, but Traverso was unaware of the severity of the fire until the last lap, when the fire itself spread to the outside of the car. With his lead beginning to evaporate, Traverso started steering with his head out the window, and even then the smoke was by this point so bad that he had to guess his braking points. Nonetheless, Traverso, who would go on to win the title that year, was able to hang on by about a car length.
The fire was eventually credited to an exhaust modification made by the team, which caused the car to not use all of the available lubricant. The battle lives on even to this day, with one article calling it a battle so great that the drivers ascended to godhood.
And yes, I get the irony of the car being a Renault Fuego.
14. ADRIAN RUGGERI’S CRASH (2000?, PROMOCIONAL 850 DEL ATLANTICO, MAR DEL PLATA)
NEW TO LIST
We remain in Argentina for an incident you’ve probably seen on Whacked Out Sports. Keep in mind that there was so little information available for this one that I actually had to use Youtube comments for information, which I then cross-referenced, so I apologize if anything is off.
During the last race of the Promocional 850 Del Atlantico series, an Argentine series that mostly ran Fiat 600s, in or around 2000, a driver, likely Adrian Ruggeri, was on track to win both the race and the title, and decided to begin celebrating down the home straight by waving his hand out the window. This turned out to be a bad idea.
Ruggeri lost control of the car and struck the wall, immobilizing it just a few meters before the finish line and costing Ruggeri both possible accolades. Things only got worse for Ruggeri, who was apparently intimidating another driver who had celebrated in this manner before and hadn’t crashed. He got out and began pushing the car across the line. This was a perfectly legal move, believe it or not, however he would later be disqualified for pushing his car without a helmet. I, uh, don’t think a helmet would have done much, considering Ruggeri likely left his brain at home…
13. BUDDY BAKER’S STRETCHER ROLL (1968?, STREET STOCKS?, SMOKY MOUNTAIN)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 13TH
This one’s a classic.
The event that transpired is often placed in either 1967 or 1968, and was likely a local event since the driver involved, Buddy Baker, was asked to race by the track owner, though it may well have been a Grand National event. In any case, Baker was leading an event at the then-paved Smoky Mountain Raceway in Tennessee when a tire blew in turn three, sending him hard into the outside wall. Shaken but not stirred with the exception of a few busted ribs, Baker was only just collecting his thoughts when two track workers, who according to the book Then Junior Said To Jeff were remembered by Baker as Bubba and Barney Fife, pulled up in an ambulance, which was actually a repurposed hearse. They extricated Baker headfirst, not even bothering to unclip his harness, and strapped him on a gurney, which they then threw in the back of the ambulance without locking the rear wheels or closing the back door. It wasn’t long before Buddy found himself rolling down the speedway, strapped to a gurney, with oncoming traffic driving by. Just as the ambulance crew noticed they’d lost their load, Buddy rolled off the pavement and into the mud, where the gurney dug in and turned over. When asked if he was all right, Buddy famously replied, “If I ever get off this thing, I am going to kill you.”
12. DE NARDA AND GOUNON CRASH (2015, PORSCHE CARRERA CUP FRANCE, NAVARRA)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 10TH
Porsche Carrera Cup is one of several one make series that runs in an assortment of countries. In it, a mix of rich businessmen, journeymen, newcomers and veterans race alongside one another in identical Porsche Carreras.
Porsches, especially the Carreras and the Carrera GT3s, are somewhat notable for their odd shape. They have exposed wheels and a rather bizarre slope on the front end, leading to some strange accidents, such as this one.
During a Porsche Carrera Cup France at the Navarra circuit in Spain in 2015, Joffrey De Narda was turned around shortly after the start in the very sharp turn three right hander. The #9 car was avoided by most of the oncoming cars, but the #169 of Jules Gounon could not avoid him, leading to the #169 climbing atop the #9 car’s front end and coming to stop atop De Narda. De Narda’s car’s roof held perfectly, and De Narda was able to escape without injury. Gounon was helped out of his car, and though he appeared unhurt, he later revealed to have suffered two broken vertebrae that would take him out for a little. Joffrey spent 2017 still in Porsche Carrera Cup France, while Jules is off to Blancpain GT in 2018.
11. EVERYONE RUNS OUT OF FUEL (2017, SOUTH EAST ASIA FORMULA 4, SEPANG)
NEW TO LIST
Juuuust missed out on the top ten.
The South East Asia Formula 4 series is one of many, many Formula 4 series dotting the globe. The league mostly races in Malaysia and Thailand, with occasional trips to the Philippines or Indonesia.
After Romain Grosjean’s strange accident during practice for the final Malaysian Grand Prix in 2017, track repairs were necessary, forcing the SEA F4 series to push off a pair of races it had planned that day. Repairs were completed later in the day, giving just enough time for the SEA F4 to run those races.
The first race went over fine, but the second race did not. Due to the compressed time frame in between races, cars were fueled for the two races beforehand instead of being refueled after race one according to autosport. Officials, not used to this, miscalculated how much fuel would be needed.
On lap six of eight, four cars, including Daniel Cao, the race one leader and the leader of race two at the time, all began to stall on the circuit, their fuel tanks dry. Three more cars slowed to a stop on lap seven, and as such Kane Shepherd as the only car running. Shepherd stalled in turn two on the last lap, leaving the safety car on its own to lap the circuit. Kane was originally given the victory, however, when the officials noted their mistake, reverted results to how they were after five laps, meaning Cao was instead the winner.
27. TODD SZEGEDY AND THE ORANGE (2004, NASCAR BUSCH, CHICAGOLAND)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 49TH
The Busch race at Joliet in 2004 was…weird. Be it Bobby Hamilton Jr. on pole or midfielder Justin Labonte scoring the win when the leader ran out of fuel, this was a weird, weird race. But possibly the strangest bit came during qualifying.
NASCAR Modified regular Todd Szegedy hopped up to the Busch Series to make a couple of runs in 2004, and was wrapping up his first of two qualifying laps when he came across a massive orange rolling across the track. The large inflatable orange, which according to Online Athens weighed about sixty pounds and was thirty feet in diameter, was supposed to help advertise the race’s sponsor, Tropicana Twister. It sure did much more than advertise…
Szegedy was fielded off the track, and the orange, which had snapped off its tethering in high winds, eventually deflated when it pierced the barbs of the catchfencing in turn one. Qualifying was further delayed by rain, but Szegedy eventually did get back on track for a complete redo of his qualifying run, a rare gift for NASCAR to give, as the events which hindered his lap were outside of his control. He timed the car in 12th, but unfortunately crashed out during the event.
26. AMBROSE TIRE ROLL (2001, VIRGIN SUPERCAR, CANBERRA)
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The announcement of a race through the Australian capital of Canberra in 2000 was met with very mixed responses, and this response would dog the race until its cancellation after the 2002 running. The track had an interesting layout, which even sent it in front of the Parliament House, and it was well set up, but due to the fact that important streets had to be closed to hold the event, traffic was often through the roof, and all in all it was too expensive for the cost to be justified. Even still, the Canberra 400 is often remembered for a humorous incident that befell Marcos Ambrose during the 2001 running.
Towards the end of one of the round’s doubleheaders, Ambrose threw a back left wheel and pulled his car off to the side of the road and out of harm’s way. The wheel, of course, kept going, and rolled down the chute for quite a distance. The wheel followed a curve in the road, hopped up a street curb at the upcoming chicane, and promptly planted itself atop a tire bundle, seemingly wanting to join its brethren. It was a comedic moment, but Ambrose’s day was done.
25. PEDESTRIAN CAR ON TRACK (2014, VW FUN CUP, BRANDS HATCH)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 24TH
The VW Fun Cup is a one make series for Volkswagen New Beetles that frequently endurance races, one of its big events being a 25 hour race at Spa. It’s a fairly popular series, but it was also host to one of the more terrifying incidents on this list.
In the summer of 2014, a man decided to drive a Volkswagen Polo through a set of gates and onto the circuit at Brands Hatch with who was described as a female friend in the passenger seat, leading to rather audible confusion from the track’s announcer. The incident, which was being filmed from inside the white Polo, led to the four hour endurance being ended about a half hour early. From inside the car, millions of Youtube viewers (two million plus by the end of the year) were able to watch as the Polo’s driver, 22 year old Jack Cottle of East Sussex, navigated the track at high speed with 18 year old Saskia Fisk, the car’s owner, in hysterics across the center console. Zac Copson sat in the backseat filming Jack laugh like a maniac as confused racers passed what they thought to be a safety car.
The race’s early conclusion led to a loss of money amongst the 26 competing cars, which Judge Martin Joy took into account when he sentenced Cottle to prison for eight months in November of 2014. Dailymail reported that Cottle’s social media was full of boasts and stunts involving fast cars.
24. MANHOLE ENDS RACE (1990, WORLD SPORTSCAR, MONTREAL)
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With the new engine rules that would do it in on the horizon, 1990’s World Sports-Prototype Championship was declining, but was still doing well. Grids were still very large, and the beautiful Group C cars were still proving to be enjoyable.
In 1990, Mercedes was absolutely dominating the calendar with its pair of brand new C11s, leaving it a race for third for the most part. With a cavalry of mostly Porsches rounding out the grid, the racing was wild and the crowds were at the track in droves.
One of the sleek 962s that ran as part of the grid was a vehicle entered by Switzerland’s Brun Motorsport, a privateer team owned by Walter Brun. The series did run overseas, with one of the overseas races being through the streets of Montreal at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and Brun Motorsport followed the wagon train to Canada with two cars, the #16 of Jésus Pareja and Bernard Santal and the #15 of Harald Huysman and Oscar Larrauri.
As the race passed the halfway point, the Mercedes were as usual leading when a massive crash broke out heading under the bridge on the approach to turn eight. A manhole cover had been sucked up over the course of the event by the field and Pareja was the unlucky one to strike it. The Porsche immediately caught fire and collected two cars, the #16 of teammate Larrauri and the #12 Cougar C24S of Morin – Thuner. Pareja was all right, seen walking away by the TV crew with Larrauri, but the Porsche was a write off. Organizers were concerned about the rest of the manholes, and as such the race was ended early, with half points awarded.
23. THE ENTIRE START (1997, IRL, INDIANAPOLIS)
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The standard rule of the Indianapolis 500 is for 33 cars, no more, no less. It’s how it always been and will be. The rule for the year in 1997 was that the top 25 in owner’s points were locked in as long as they were fast enough in pre-qualifying practice, and eight drivers would race their way in. Only 23 of the top 25 showed up to Indy, leaving ten spots open.
The fight between USAC’s policies and the IRL’s marred time trials. USAC, who believed in the fastest 33, allowed entries which ran backup cars to be locked in, which was against the policy, and the IRL was already looking to dump the 25/8 rule. At the end of qualifying, the grid of 33 was set, yet USAC was not pleased that two cars piloted by Lyn St. James and Johnny Unser were not part of the grid despite being faster than several locked in cars. It was ruled that they would be added to the grid for a field of 35, the second time since 1933 that the grid had not been of 33 cars, the first being 1979.
When the race was eventually started on Memorial Day, the 35 cars began to pace the track, only for some wild events to cause several to retire before the start. Stéphan Grégoire, Alfonso Giaffone, and Kenny Bräck crashed during pace laps, and Sam Schmidt, Alessandro Zampedri, and Robbie Groff all suffered from mechanical woes. Of these six, only Groff continued, leaving 30 cars to take the start. The race was eventually postponed further to Tuesday, where further bizarre rulings and strange officiating by USAC spelled the end for the organization’s partial hold on the Indy 500.
22. PETER BRAID’S CRASH (1949, FORMULA 3, BLANDFORD)
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Racing in 1949 was extremely unique. Few safety measures, frequent injuries and little care for wellbeing meant racers were more daredevils than anything else. Tracks had few safety measures, and were rarely permanent layouts. One of these circuits was Blandford, an army camp on the southwestern British coast.
During a meet at the circuit in 1949, driver Gordon Woods spun into an old bus shelter, destroying it and dealing him injuries he would later die from. The meet went on.
Formula 3 cars were very new at the time, rather sleek vehicles powered by bike engines that were popular amongst the masses. One of the new cars’ drivers was Major Peter K. Braid, who according to a WordPress blog by the name of Graham’s World had found much success in his few months of racing. During the event, Braid lost control of the car and slid straight into the demolished bus shelter, leading to a spectacular accident.
Braid’s Cooper vaulted the destroyed bus shelter, flew over a fir tree, and landed atop the roof of the battalion headquarters right side up. Braid stepped out of the vehicle with only bruises, and the Cooper remained atop the headquarters until day’s end. Blandford would continue to see races until the early 1960s.
21. J.M. REIS’ CRASH (2005, FORMULA TRUCK, CAMPO GRANDE)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 15TH
Tractor trailer racing is popular not only in Europe but also Brazil. In fact, before finances ended it after 2016, Formula Truck was one of Brazil’s most popular series, though it was also the most destructive.
During the start of the race at Campo Grande in 2005, driver Fabiano Brito got a very poor jump. Jonatas Borlenghi and Roberval Andrade both saw opportunities to gain position at the same time and their forward dash ended in Brito being spun in front of everyone.
According to campeones.com.ar, 19 of the 23 trucks in the race were involved and eight trucks were completely written off. Heber Borlenghi vaulted the back of another vehicle and went airborne, landing on the pit wall and sending chunks of the barrier and barrier decor into the pit area. The truck took off again, landing on the truck of Jose Mariá Reis and obliterating it.
The race was immediately halted and later cancelled. The broadcast of the race ended up turning into an episode of Rescue 911, where drivers, doctors, marshals and even the President of Formula Truck himself assisted in pulling Reis from the destroyed cab. It took 45 minutes, but eventually Reis was pulled from the vehicle with a busted kneecap.
This crash would actually prove influential in determining the season’s champion. Points leader Wellington Cirino had been injured during practice at the prior race at Londrina, but with the round at Campo Grande abandoned, he lost fewer points than he could have. Wellington would win that year’s title despite only competing in six of the eight completed races.
20. THE MERCEDES CLR (1999, FIA GT, LE MANS)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 25TH
By 1999, Mercedes was quite comfortably back at Le Mans after returning to the track a few years prior, having left after the 1955 disaster. For 1999, Mercedes constructed the Mercedes CLR, a replacement to the CLK GTR. An issue with the aerodynamics, however, allowed for air to almost built up in pockets when going over a hill, of which there are a few at Le Mans, instead of being properly dispersed. Coupled with slipstream, this allowed for the car to easily take flight. During Happy Hour on Thursday, Mark Webber took to the skies down Courbe Du Golf, the chute between Mulsanne and Indianapolis, in the lead car, which was a complete writeoff after apparently going into the trees. Webber emerged from the car unhurt, and for reasons which remain confidential amongst Mercedes according to Road and Track, the team pressed onward.
On Saturday, during a warmup, the chute became a launch pad for the CLR again, with Webber again in the driver’s seat. The car landed inverted on the circuit, and though Webber was all right, the car was promptly withdrawn. Again, the team, still unable to find the issue, pressed onwards with two cars. On lap 75 of the main event, Peter Dumbreck proved that this was probably a bad idea.
Dumbreck flew over the barriers and into the woods down the Courbe Du Golf, thankfully without injury. The remaining Mercedes was quickly withdrawn, and after the issues were identified, most of the CLRs were disposed of with a car crusher, though at least one survives for vintage racing.
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.