The History Of The NASCAR Sportsman Division

Credit to Travis Joyner for the featured image

By using UltimateRacingHistory, newspapers of the day, the few still-available broadcasts, and much cross-referencing, I have put together a massive spreadsheet consisting of all 42 NASCAR Sportsman Division races. You can access that spreadsheet here. I have also created a driver spreadsheet, which can be found here.

If you have any info I can add, please let me know! With that said…

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division was an intriguing experiment. It pit weekend short trackers, journeymen, and budding talent against one another in low-speed duels at high-speed tracks in old equipment that had once been used in either the NASCAR Winston Cup Series or the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. Races were short, yet televised. Crowds had low standards, but were decently sized. It was a great way to get one’s name out there. The Division was a racer’s dream, and yet at the end was a nightmare many wanted to forget. Today, in an article so long I’ve split it up into sections, we take a look at a series usually remembered as a division with its highs and lows, the NASCAR Sportsman Division.

 

PART 1: 1989

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division was thought up by Humpy Wheeler, the President and General Manager of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, in mid-January 1989, and was made public later that month. The idea was simple. Take old NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Grand National cars, tune them down, and let short track racers lap the Charlotte Motor Speedway in them.

Drivers were allowed to use any Winston Cup car that had been made between 1982 and 1986, and were permitted to use any Late Model Sportsman/Busch Grand National car from between 1975 and 1986. In 1990, cars from 1987 would be permitted, in 1991, cars from 1988 would be permitted, and so forth. Drivers had to use 350 cubic inch engines and two barrel carburetors, meaning cars usually generated between 250 and 300 horsepower. Drivers who had made more than five Winston Cup or Busch Grand National starts were not permitted to race in the division. Additionally, the division would not use a points system, nor would it have a champion. It would purely be for glory and prize money. To participate, drivers only required a valid drivers license, which is actually not required in the Cup Series today, a NASCAR license, and to have had experience on a superspeedway, which could easily be achieved through the various racing schools at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Humpy announced that the schedule would consist of six or seven races, and that the first would be on Wednesday, May 24th. He also announced that the Sportsman Division would be supporting the October race, but every other race was left up in the air.

A large field showed up to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for their inaugural race, called the Wiscassett Super Speedway 150, 40 of which timed their way into the show. Ward Burton of South Boston, VA set the fastest time in an Oldsmobile. The Winston Cup pole speed that weekend was 173mph. Burton’s pole speed was a blazing 152mph.

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Screencap

Burton dominated most of the race, but with about 20 laps to go, his right rear tire blew, sending him around in turn three. This left left Jack Sprague, a Concord-area short tracker in a 1986 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in the lead, and Sprague faced little competition from there.

However, after the race, it was discovered that the cylinder heads on Sprague’s car were several cubic centimeters too small. Smaller cylinder heads increase compression in an engine, and with it increase the horsepower. Sprague, who NASCAR officials believed wasn’t aware of the infraction, was disqualified that evening, and the win was given to Tim Bender, a snowmobile racing expert from Bolden, NY, in a Buick. Kirk Shelmerdine of Philadelphia, crew chief to Dale Earnhardt, Sr., finished second, and Jay Fogleman of Pittsboro, NC finished third. Burton had to settle for 12th, one lap down. The race had been expected to be such a complete mess that the race’s caution count, five, was seen as surprisingly low.

The “six or seven” race schedule never came to fruition, however the series still ran at the Charlotte Motor Speedway again on October 4th for the Wiscassett 150. Tim Bender started on the pole, however a three car crash broke out after two laps that sent Chevrolet driver Dwight Cass of Union Grove, NC to the hospital with a broken shoulder. No one knew it at the time, but Cass would be the first injury in a long line.

At quarter distance, a major crash broke out that took eight cars out of the race, including Maurice Petty’s son and Richard’s nephew, Ritchie Petty, of Randleman, NC. Also collected was Neal Connell, Jr. of Tallahassee. The May race had been very clean, with only one car confirmed to have wrecked out (that of Bunnlevel, NC’s Jimmy Neighbors), but the October race was very different. It showed a problem with the NASCAR Sportsman Division: when pileups broke out at high speed, drivers, more accustomed to short tracks, had no idea what to do. A spinning car on a tight short track can be difficult to dodge, however the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s banking and apron allowed for lots of maneuvering room, leaving drivers with more options than just to pile in. This led to drivers scattering at full speed when a crash occurred, sometimes directly into another car. Only 24 of the 40 starters finished the race. The race up front, however, was quite interesting, as towards the end of the race Bender had to hold off Todd Bodine of Chemung, NY. Bender secured the lead for the last time with four laps to go. Bender had won both races that year, but unfortunately, since the division was an exhibition one, he wouldn’t be getting the champion’s spoils.

 

PART 2: 1990

 

The Sportsman Division got started in April at the Richmond Int’l Raceway in a race simply called the Winston Twin 200. It was a 200 lap race paired with the NASCAR Modifieds, who were also running a 200 lapper. The race, unfortunately, turned out to be a huge crashfest, with 15 yellows for 87 laps. It was won by Dennis Setzer in a tough fight between him and David Blankenship of Moseley, VA.

The second race, the Sportsman 100 at Charlotte, netted 72 entrants. The entry list had a wide variety of names, even having two Australians on it in Kim Jane and Terri Sawyer. Kim, the son of Calder Park Thunderdome owner Bob Jane, was running a car fielded by Reid Paget of Colorado, while Terri Sawyer ran for herself. Both competed in AUSCAR, an Australian stock car series which mostly ran at Calder Park, a 1.119 mile oval located in Melbourne. Sawyer had in fact won the first AUSCAR race in 1988. Due to the large amount of drivers who hadn’t raced on a superspeedway before, the Charlotte Motor Speedway conducted a set of practice sessions for the newcomers. These sessions were held before registration, so some drivers didn’t even have numbers on their cars.

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Credit to Racer’s Reunion

One driver who did have a number on his car was David Gaines, 27, of Goldston, NC, a regular at the Caraway Speedway. Gaines, however, never got the chance to race. On May 16, during the final practice session before registration, Gaines was collected in a multi-car incident and his #36 Oldsmobile was struck by an unnumbered ex-Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet driven by Steve McEachern of Phoenix. Gaines was dead on arrival to the hospital, and McEachern suffered hand injuries.

Drivers and crews alike were puzzled as to why Gaines, whose cause of death was massive head trauma, had died. Driver Junior Franks of Skyland, NC noted that he’d been struck in a similar manner during the massive pileup in the October 1989 race, and he’d been mostly uninjured. The collision, though fierce, was in the car’s back end. The series continued on, and 40 drivers were lucky enough to time their way in to the race, which was entitled the Sportsman 100 and held on May 20. Tim Hepler of Tyrone, GA, who had never once raced anything outside of go-karts, surprised everyone with the pole. Charles “Tuck” Trentham of Orange City, FL and Robbie Faggart of Concord dueled one another throughout the last few laps of the race, and Faggart nipped Trentham by six inches. Kerry Teague outdid Todd Bodine in the Wiscassett 150 on May 23, winning by a car length. Teague started 32nd in the race, the furthest back starting spot for a Sportsman winner. Teague, another Concord area short tracker, apparently won the race in an old Late Model Sportsman car. As for the Australians, Jane qualified for the first race and finished midfield. Sawyer failed to qualify for the first race (in fact she was collected in Gaines’ crash). Sawyer qualified for the second race, but wrecked out early.

The next race, the Armor All 125, was held on September 2 at the New Hampshire Int’l Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. T.W. Taylor of Chester, VA nipped Dennis Setzer for the pole, but Dennis took the lead quickly. The race went rather smoothly and Setzer was the winner.

The cavalry then moved on to Charlotte again. Robert Huffman of Claremont, NC piloted his Chevrolet Monte Carlo to victory in the first race, the Wiscasset 150 on October 3, a relatively clean show. The second race, the Sportsman 100 on October 6, saw a huge pileup off of turn four that wiped out over a half dozen cars, including Marc Madison of Irving, TX, Dennis Paasch of Marshfield, WI, and once again Neal Connell, Jr. No one was injured. Up front the race was a wild duel between Dennis Setzer’s Thunderbird and Robert Huffman’s Monte Carlo. Huffman took the lead and the win on the last lap, off of turn four, in the only confirmed last lap pass in the Sportsman Division.

 

PART 3: 1991

 

The NASCAR Sportsman Division once again started with a race at the Richmond Int’l Raceway, again alongside the NASCAR Modifieds.

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#99 Lee Tissot, #8 Robbie Faggart, #46 Bubba Urban, #41 Ritchie Petty, #85 Monroe Snyder, #16 Will Hobgood, #17 Junior Franks, #68 Richard Jarvis, #93 Tim Hepler; Credit to Travis Joyner

Qualifying for the opener, called the Twin 200 and held March 24, was rained out, so the 35 drivers chose their starting positions in a lotto. Doug Sanders of Springwood, NC drew the pole, but Dennis Setzer, who started third, took the lead on lap one and never looked back. Sanders’ day didn’t last much longer than the first lap anyway, as he broke down around lap 50.

Next up were the May Charlotte festivities. The first race, the Sportsman 100, on May 19, required several qualifying sessions for the dozens of drivers, and many of those drivers had to run one of two 20-lap qualifying races to time their way into the race.

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Credit to the Associated Press

The first qualifier saw action not on the track, but in the inspection bay, when apparent winner Robbie Faggart was disqualified for an illegal spacer. This decision stirred controversy, but officials didn’t budge, and Faggart, usually a Sportsman frontrunner, was sent home. In the second qualifier, a crash sent Gravenhurst, ONT’s Michael Goudie and Winston-Salem’s Doug Gold to the hospital with pains. Neither seemed to be badly injured. After the restart, Phillip Ross of Greer, SC, a 25-year-old racer of the northern South Carolina dirt tracks who was making his first Sportsman attempt, spun backwards into an opening in the pit lane. Ross’ Chevrolet, apparently already known for catching fire easily, exploded into flames, forcing Ross to bail out the passenger door when it became apparent that the safety crews weren’t going to extinguish the car anytime soon. The Speedway stated that fire and gasoline had spread to the rescue vehicle, which was parked nearby, and they had to attend to that. In any case, Ross suffered second degree burns and retired from motorsport from his hospital bed.

The race itself went very smoothly – or at least it would have gone smoothly, if not for an early accident that sent William Metzger to the hospital. Metzger, of Deer Park, NY, required x-rays and a CAT-scan after being struck by a competitor in the quadoval. Robert Huffman dominated the entire race and won easily.

On May 22, the Goody’s 150 was held. Drag racer Mark Cox of Walnut Cove, NC led the field to the green and led the first lap, but Robbie Faggart took the lead quickly and led every lap from that point onward with the exception of one or two. Interestingly, Faggart’s starting spot, fourth place, was rather far back for a Sportsman race winner. In fact, on only three occasions in the entire history of the Division was the winner of a Sportsman race confirmed to have started outside the top six, and only one winner, Teague, started outside the top dozen. The race saw a notable starter in a younger Mike Skinner, making his only known Sportsman start in a car owned by Thee Dixon. He started and finished midfield. It also saw another hospitalization in Ritchie Petty, who was sent to the hospital with a sore arm.

Race four, the Duron Maxwood 100, was held on May 25. The race, once again, was marred by a massive accident. Ed Gartner, Jr. of Green Brook, NJ spun his #84 Pontiac out and collected Harry Page and Sherrills Ford, NC’s Mike Carver, both in Pontiacs. After a few seconds, Tom D’Eath, in the #61 Chevrolet, slammed into Gartner’s door.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Gartner broke his right leg and D’Eath, an legendary powerboat racer and Fair Haven, MI native, broke a bone in his neck. The race was red flagged briefly, but it continued on after about 15 minutes under red. Robert Huffman was mostly untouchable during the race, and he celebrated the victory heartily.

Race five brought the cavalry not to Loudon, but to Pocono, on July 20. The race, called the First Choice 150, saw an interesting speed disparity. In the Cup Series, in 1991, a lap of 56 seconds at Pocono was considered excellent, a number which has decreased to about 52 seconds over the years. In the Sportsman Division, a 65 second lap was considered quick.

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Kirk Shelmerdine’s Sportsman car (top), Dale Earnhardt’s Cup car (bottom) at Pocono 1991; Credit to Sporting News

The race itself was not a cautionfest, but the caution periods were very slow, and organizers found themselves running out of time. On lap 51, a crash started in turn three when Brian Pedrick of Monroe, NC collided with Knoxville’s ironically-named Monroe Snyder, causing a pileup that wiped out eight cars, including Tom Hessert, Jr. of the famous Cherry Hill, NJ-based racing family. The race was called on lap 53 due to time constraints. Dennis Setzer’s 1988 Ford won the race, leading most of it.

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#12 Tim Edwards; Credit to the Associated Press

There were no injuries from the pileup. However, there was one hospitalization: Rounder Saverance of Timmonsville, SC pulled into the pits on lap 40 and collapsed. Saverance, a bank vice president who raced a little bit of everything as a hobby, was taken to the hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning. He was the only Sportsman Division hospitalization at a track other than Charlotte.

Two races were to be held at Charlotte that October, but a 150-mile race planned for October 2 was rained out. The only race held that weekend was the Duron Paints & Wallcoverings 100 on October 5, which was easily won by Kirk Shelmerdine.

 

PART 4: 1992

 

The Sportsman Division found sponsorship in 1992, becoming the NASCAR Igloo Sportsman Challenge. The Division also started awarding points, so a champion would be crowned at season’s end. The schedule consisted of seven races, three races during the May Charlotte festivities, a single Pocono race during the June Pocono weekend, another solo Pocono race during NASCAR’s July visit, and a pair of races during the Charlotte festivities in October. The race at Richmond had been removed. This schedule of three Charlotte races, two Pocono races, and two Charlotte races would remain unchanged throughout the rest of the division’s history.

A cavalry of 62 drivers signed up for the first race, simply called the Sportsman 100, on May 16. The drivers included Jason Keller of Greenville, SC, yet another short tracker looking to move up, Glenn Darnell of McDowell, VA, a businessman in his early 60s who had started racing on a whim about two or three years prior, Jerry Glanville of Roswell, GA, the Atlanta Falcons coach, and Gary Batson, 40, a restaurateur from Travelers Rest, SC. Batson’s car was the same Chevrolet Monte Carlo that Phillip Ross had crashed. It had been restored and sold to Lawrence Ledford, who prepared it for Batson.

The top 30 made the race through qualifying sessions, but everyone else had to run a short last chance qualifying race, scheduled to last 30 laps. During the race, a pileup began after the leaders collided, and Neal Connell, Jr. collided with Batson. This pinned Batson’s car up against the barrier, where it came to rest in the quadoval.

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Credit to Randy Ayers

While Connell, Jr. was able to evacuate, the angle of Batson’s car, which was already prone to catch fire easily, made it impossible for him to immediately evacuate. Batson was extricated after about a minute, but he had suffered heavy burns.

Batson died the next morning from his burns. The last chance qualifier itself was shortened to about half distance, but was completed. Jerry Glanville was one of the drivers in the last chance qualifier, and unfortunately his engine blew during it, sending him home.

An investigation of the accident revealed that it had been a freak happening. Batson’s car came to a stop at a strange angle, and the mechanism that closed the gas cap in case the car rolled hadn’t activated, as the angle was too shallow.

As for the main event, it continued on as planned. Robbie Faggart dominated the race, which was a messy crashfest. The race was once again marred by a heavy accident, as towards race’s end, a massive pileup occurred on the backstretch. During the crash, Lee Tissot piled into the front end of Larry Caudill, a NASCAR Dash Series expert from North Wilkesboro, not injuring Caudill but sending Tissot to the hospital with head lacerations and other possible injuries.

The racing continued on. Race two, the Goody’s 150, on May 20, went rather quietly, though it did see a somewhat bizarre and humorous incident before the race had even started. Danny Sikes of Denver, NC, who was lined up ninth, missed the driver’s meeting and was ordered to start from the back. Sikes refused to do this, and thus was parked. Faggart dominated this race as well, and he brought home the checkered flag. This was the last 150 mile Sportsman race held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. All future events would be 100 miles.

Race three, the Duron 100, was won by Tim Bender, who took the lead from Peter Gibbons with about five laps left. The race saw some interesting incidents. Danny Sikes had surprisingly been permitted to take the start despite his earlier behavior, and on lap 22, Sikes wrecked his #72 Chevrolet in a fireball after colliding with Jerry Rector of Fountain Inn, SC and Jerry Knowles of Tyrone, GA. Sikes was not badly hurt.

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Credit to the Associated Press; Note the #96 for Gary Batson on the #72’s C-post

Also during the race, Steve Allison of Snellville, GA struck the frontstretch barrier, sending him to the hospital with minor injuries.

Race four, held on June 13, was the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge 150 at Pocono. This race was an absolute crashfest, with over half the race being held under caution. The race was fairly wild, and was won by Tim Bender. Interestingly enough, Bender took the lead late in the race from Peter Gibbons once again.

Race five, thankfully, went much more smoothly. It was again held at Pocono, on July 18. Eight cautions had flown during the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge 150. This race, called the Igloo Sportsman 150, only was only slowed by one. Peter Gibbons outdueled Tim Bender and was the victor.

Two more Charlotte races were held in October. They were the Winston Sportsman 100, on October 7, and the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100, on October 10. The former was the sixth race of the championship, the latter the seventh. Robbie Faggart won both races in dominant performances, and was crowned the inaugural Sportsman champion. Both races were chock-full of wrecks, and one crash during the latter event sent Mark Purcell of Watertown, NY, to the hospital with pelvic injuries. Outside of the many accidents, little interesting occurred.

 

PART 5: 1993

 

1993 had the same schedule as 1992, a trio of Charlotte races, a pair of Pocono events, and a pair of Charlotte events. The Division had lost its sponsorship from Igloo, and had returned to simply being called the NASCAR Sportsman Division. The fun started on May 22 with the Winston Sportsman 100. Tim Bender led the cavalry out of the gate, but Kirk Shelmerdine began reeling in Bender and was looking to catch the New Yorker. On lap 62 of 67, Martinsville, VA’s Shari Minter spun on the frontstretch and was plowed into by Shelmerdine. The crash also collected Beauford, SC’s Fred Yelinek, Jerry Knowles, and Harry Page. No one was injured, but all were out of the race. Bender brought the field across the line under caution to win.

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Credit to (and of) Fred Yelinek

Next up was the Goody’s Sportsman 100 on May 26. A massive pileup was triggered on lap two by Peter Gibbons who rammed the #14 of Clearwater, FL’s Michael Dokken. It took out the cars of Concord’s Terry Brooks, Shelby, NC’s Ronnie Sewell, and Garland Hobgood of Winnsboro, SC. Brooks had made the news the year prior when he’d been disqualified from the last chance qualifier that Gary Batson had been fatally burned in. The reason for his disqualification was given as an illegal carburetor.

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Credit to the Associated Press

The race also saw another pileup when Mint Hill, NC native Russell Phillips triggered an accident in turn two. The crash demolished the cars of Marty Ward of Marietta, GA, whose car was owned by the same Lawrence Ledford who had prepared the car for Batson, Wally Fowler of Campobello, SC, Lane Vail of Matthews, NC, and Jerry Rector. Tim Bender won the race in a fairly dominant performance, though he did have to fend off David Smith, the owner of Smith Motors and native of Williamston, SC.

By this point, the organizers of the Sportsman Division had had enough of the frequent accidents. They decided that the next race, called the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100 on May 29, would employ a single-file initial start. This decision proved to be a good idea. Not only did the race go caution-free, but fans got a great show. David Smith and Tim Bender traded the lead several times, and Smith was the one out front when the checkered flag fell. Humorously enough, the race did see a crash when Steve Clark of Shelby wrecked after the checkered flag.

Next race, the Winnebago / Cedar Ridge RV Sportsman 150 on June 12 at Pocono. The race once again started single file, and once again it went completely caution free. It also saw an interesting battle between Jerry Knowles, Tim Bender, and Kirk Shelmerdine. Knowles outdid both Bender and Shelmerdine and won the event. The single file initial start rule became universal in the NASCAR Sportsman Division after this.

The next event, the Levitz Furniture 150 on July 17, was again a duel between Bender and Shelmerdine, though this time without Knowles, who started at the outside of the top ten and stayed there most of the race. Bender started on pole, and Shelmerdine took the lead soon after. The Philadelphian led most of the race before losing the race to Bender late in the going. Michael Lovetere of Oakdale, CT entered this race in a Chrysler, the only known use of a Chrysler in the Division’s history. Lovetere blew a gasket early on and finished last.

The October Sportsman races, the Winston Sportsman 100 on October 6 and the Duron 100 on October 9, were both absolutely dominated by Kirk Shelmerdine, who announced in victory lane after the latter race that he was going to be moving on from the Sportsman Division and was headed to the ARCA series. Shelmerdine won the pole and led every lap of both events. Both races saw their wrecks, including one particularly violent hit in the latter race for Jerry Knowles, but all drivers were checked and released.

David Smith, who had never finished outside the top five that season, was the NASCAR Sportsman Division’s second champion in 1993, beating out Tim Bender. This would be the last year in which the Division awarded points. It went back to being an exhibition series for 1994. Smith sold his championship-winning 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo after 1993. In a strange coincidence, the buyer of the Chevrolet was also named David Smith – and he was looking to enter the Sportsman Division.

 

PART 6: 1994

 

The NASCAR Sportsman boys and girls started their season as they usually did: at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. They had three races lined up as per the norm, and the cavalry of short track regulars and others prepared for their qualifying sessions.

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Credit to Charlie Steed

David Smith of Holt, FL had entered the race in David Smith of South Carolina’s old Chevrolet. South Carolina’s David Smith had also returned, this time in an Oldsmobile. To differentiate the two, the Floridian David Smith will be referred to hereon as he was in the broadcasts, David R. Smith.

David R. Smith’s first race in the division, the Winston Sportsman 100 on May 21, didn’t go too well, as the Floridian crashed on lap 9. Ronnie Sewell won his first Sportsman Division race, taking the lead from surprise polesitter Shari Minter, one of two females in the field alongside San Antonio’s Sherry Blakley. The race was shortened from 67 to 60 laps due to time constraints.

Race two, the Goody’s 100 on May 25, was an exciting race towards the back of the field. Coming to complete lap one, Concord’s Russ Galindo dumped the Chevrolet of Chesterfield, SC’s John Stroud in turn three. The crash collected a myriad of cars, and Vic Kicera of Lancaster, PA obliterated his car against Stroud’s. Thankfully both were uninjured. Also taken out of the race in the crash were David Owens of Rock Hill, SC, Mickey Hudspeth of Ronda, NC, and Donnie Mergard of Park Hills, KY. Robert Wooten of Anderson, SC and Pat Dunn of Altamonte Springs, FL were also collected, but they continued.

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Dunn; Credit to Bob Edwards

The caution period was further extended when, while the field was slowing down, Glenn Darnell’s car shot sideways and put a big hole in the inside wall just past the quadoval. Glenn wasn’t hurt. Wooten brought out the second and final caution a few laps after the restart when he rammed the water barrels on the inside of turn four. He was done, and neither Dunn or Galindo’s races lasted much longer, with Dunn being taken out by a broken differential in the pit area.

Up front, the race was no contest. While Minter once again won the pole, Marty Ward seized the lead on lap one and never looked back.

Race three, the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100 on May 28, was even more destructive. With a little under 15 to go, Red Everette of Fairforest, SC spun his car off of turn four down the circuit. It slid back up and was struck by the approaching cavalry.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Also wiped out in the accident were Donnie Mergard, Ronnie Sewell, and Shari Minter, who once again had sat on the pole and had led a good chunk of the race. Sewell and Everette both were taken to a local hospital. Sewell was only shaken up, and Everette’s burns were thankfully minor. This accident, oddly, marked the second time a South Carolina restaurateur had been burned in a Sportsman race, the first having been the less fortunate Gary Batson. Perhaps the strangest thing of all, however, is that Red’s real first name is Gary.

Just after the race restarted, a multi-car accident broke out once again in turn four. The crash sent an axle flying into the pits, injuring crewmen Jack Kochiss and Jerry Hawks. Driver Rounder Saverance also suffered minor injuries in the accident, and all three were taken to the hospital, where Kochiss was diagnosed with a separated shoulder and Hawks with a broken leg. Despite this, the race was again resumed, and Marty Ward finished first.

A planned Sportsman race to be held in June at Pocono was rained out and was rescheduled for July, meaning they’d be doing a Charlotte-style doubleheader. The first race, the T.G.I. Friday’s 150 on July 14, was dominated and won by Wally Fowler. The only time he lost the lead during the race was when he had to make an early pit stop, after which he took the lead back during the scheduled cycle. The second race, the Gatorade Thirst Quencher 150 on July 16, was again dominated by Fowler, though he actually had to fight this time, as Marty Ward and Tim Bender both dueled him for the win. However, they came up short, and Fowler took the big W.

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Credit to the Associated Press

…Or so he thought. NASCAR officials found modifications to his Chevrolet’s headers which were against regulations, and Fowler was stripped of both wins. Jerry Rector was given the win in the first race, and Marty Ward was handed the second trophy. The only other known highlight of either race was a heavy crash during the second event where Russ Galindo and Monroe, NC’s Doug Bennett collided, wiping out both cars but injuring neither.

A rather bizarre story came with the October Sportsman festivities. During practice for race six, Joe Gaita of Yorktown, VA’s car, owned by fellow driver Henry Benfield of Statesville, NC, broke down. Benfield stepped aside and let Gaita hop in. No one thought to inform the officials, and scorers still scored Benfield in the car, which was piloted to a solid seventh. Their response when they learned of it is unknown, however neither driver ran race seven.

Another interesting story was Fred Castanza of Clearwater, FL. Castanza, a police officer, raced for charity using the team name Top Cop Racing. He ran mostly towards the back during both events.

As for the races themselves, race six, the Winston 100 on October 5, was easily won by Wally Fowler. Race seven, the Duron/Accuspray 100 on October 8, was won by Marty Ward after Gary Laton of Albemarle, NC spun out of the lead. Steve Knipe of Katy, TX surprised everyone with a second place finish, his best finish in the series by a country mile.

 

PART 7: 1995

 

By 1995, only about 45 drivers were showing up to the May festivities. The 1995 Sportsman Division did see an interesting name in Maurizio Micangeli of Rome, an experienced racer who had competed across Europe since the late 1960s. Unfortunately Micangeli, a three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans starter who had developed an interest in oval racing after watching NASCAR on ESPN, wrecked his car in practice in a collision with his teammate, David Owens, and was headed home.

The first race, the Winston Select 100, was rain-affected and was eventually shortened to 54 laps due to time constraints. The race was mostly dominated by Marty Ward, and he brought home an easy win. But perhaps the biggest winner during the race was Tim Neighbors of Bunnlevel, NC, who came very close to completely wiping out Robert Wooten during an incident early in the race.

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Credit to The Greenville News

Next up, the Goody’s 100 on May 24. Marty Ward started the race from the pole, but lost the lead to Shari Minter, and Minter led much of the race. The race was highlighted by a violent accident involving Don Satterfield of Spartanburg, who spun in front of Bubba Urban of Glen Allen, VA, and then was struck by Henry Benfield and Tim Neighbors while descending the track. The crash may have involved Minter, who wrecked out around the same time. Satterfield was taken to a local hospital with a broken finger and was released. Lester Lesneski of Stanfield, NC won the race.

#1 Don Satterfield, #46 Bubba Urban
Credit to the Sheboygan Press

Race three, the Duron Paints and Wallcoverings 100, on May 27, saw yet another heavy accident. Mickey Hudspeth lost control of his car off of turn four on lap three and began a long skid into the quadoval, where he was struck hard by Perry Tripp of Fredericktown, MO. Both cars exploded, and the #26 of Hudspeth was demolished, but both drivers were all right. Also collected were Hardy Browne of Houston, Ricky Baxley of Andrews, SC, Doug Bennett, and Pat Dunn. Only Dunn returned to the race.

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Credit to the Associated Press

Up front, Shari Minter, seemingly a habitual polesitter, led the first lap but was passed by Wally Fowler on lap two. She later was wiped out in a collision involving Scott Coutu of Newark, DE and David R. Smith. Fowler outdueled Marty Ward and Lester Lesneski for the win. Lesneski put up an especially thrilling fight with Fowler, only being beaten by Fowler by two car lengths.

Race four, the Sportsman 150 at Pocono, was held on June 9. Wally Fowler won the race, a rather messy wreckfest. He started 12th, the second furthest back a Sportsman winner ever started, charged to the front early in his Chevrolet Lumina, and led most of the event. Race five, the NASCAR Sportsman 150 on July 14, was a heated race with a record ten lead changes, though once again it was a crashfest. Lester Lesneski was victorious.

On October 4th, race six, the Winston 100, was supposed to have been held, but it was rained out and postponed to Friday, October 6th. Russell Phillips, to that point a competent midfielder who had slowly been picking up speed, was the surprise polesitter. A quarter way through the race, Phillips was running just inside the top 10 when a crash broke out and his #57 Oldsmobile collided with the car of Steven Howard of Greer, SC. The resulting roof-first impact with the catchfence killed Phillips, 26, in one of the most horrifying and graphic accidents in motorsports history, so brutal in fact that a planned tape delay airing of the race was called off. The race continued after a red flag, and Gary Laton won his first Sportsman race after passing Lester Lesneski late in the going. Lesneski easily won the next day’s race, the Duron 100.

The crash of Russell Phillips caused Humpy Wheeler to step back. He had to consider what he wanted to do with the Sportsman Division. It still had its three Charlotte races lined up for the next May, but Humpy wasn’t sure if he wanted the Division to continue. He thought about it for about a month and a half before making his decision public.

 

PART 8: AFTERMATH

 

For some drivers, the NASCAR Sportsman Division had been the perfect way to move up. Youngsters such as Michael Dokken, Bubba Urban and Jason Keller had tried their best to move their way up, and had entered the Sportsman Division so they could gain big track experience and potentially catch the eyes of a big owner.

For some drivers, the Division had been a way to do something new. Wheelmen such as Johnny Mackison, Jr., Joe Gaita and Ronnie Grinestaff had spent years racing on dirt tracks and asphalt short tracks, and had wanted to give superspeedway racing a shot.

For some drivers, the Division had been an excellent way to spend a Saturday. Racers such as auto mechanic Danny Bumbaco, restaurateur Red Everette, and Tim Hepler, whose family owns a construction firm, had gone home every Friday evening from work and had prepped their car for some rough-and-tumble racing – just at a little higher speed than normal.

For some drivers, the Division had been an exciting hobby to take part in in their later years. Competitors such as Glenn Darnell, Tom Sherrill and Rounder Saverance, despite being double the age of some of their competitors, had proved time and again that they could race with – and often beat – their opponents.

However, while the Sportsman Division had been a dream for some, it had been a nightmare for others, and with the horrors of Russell Phillips’ crash in the public’s eye, and the Division itself clearly outdated, organizers decided the greater nightmare would be to continue the series as it was. On November 29, 1995, the NASCAR Sportsman Division’s Charlotte dates were officially cancelled. It was confirmed that ARCA would take the division’s May Charlotte date, and there would be no replacement for the October date. No official announcement as to the cancellation of the Pocono dates was made, however the Sportsman Division was done.

 

 

The alumni of the Sportsman Division had varying futures and amounts of success.

Tim Bender picked up a varying set of Busch Series rides before settling on Robbie Reiser’s team in 1997. Bender suffered a neck injury during qualifying at Bristol that year and retired soon thereafter. He was replaced by a young short tracker named Matt Kenseth.

Wally Fowler still runs dirt tracks, mostly in the South.

Marty Ward still races in the American southeast. Incidentally, his home track, the Anderson Speedway, is also frequented by former Sportsman driver Lee Tissot.

Shari Minter retired from racing in 1996.

Robbie Faggart ran in the NASCAR Busch Series for a few years. He still competes in legend cars in the Charlotte area.

Kirk Shelmerdine raced into the mid 2000s, then retired. He was last seen playing professional poker.

David Smith continues to operate Smith Motors.

David R. Smith now works in the home improvement business.

Pat Dunn still operates his auto service business.

Rounder Saverance moved on to restoring classic cars and racing powerboats after the Sportsman Division ended. Saverance passed away in 2013.

 

The Division itself, however, didn’t die completely. In 1996, a new series, often reported on as the Sportsman Division staying afloat for one last year but in fact not sanctioned by NASCAR, used a similar “old race car” format on the short tracks of the Southeast. This series was called the USAR PROCUP Series, which was having a sort of ‘trial run’ in 1996. The year was successful for the series, and it began running full seasons in 1997. The series eventually moved to a North-South format and picked up sponsorship, becoming the Hooters Pro Cup Series. The series as it was eventually fell to the wayside, but both the North Division and South Division survive today under new organization and in different formats. The North Division is now called the Stock Car Super Cup Series, and the South Division the CARS Super Late Model Tour and the CARS Late Model Stock Tour. Perhaps most importantly, the largest track the Pro Cup Series ever raced on was Milwaukee.

Despite the tarnished legacy, the NASCAR Sportsman Division itself did create some names. Ward Burton, Jack Sprague, Dennis Setzer, Robert Huffman and Todd Bodine all got their start in the Sportsman Division, and some interesting moments, good and bad, occurred in the series. The Sportsman Division also led to the start of the Pro Cup Series, a classic short tracking division that launched many more careers. While the Division itself was a failure, its legacy gave birth to an important feeder series whose talents include Brian Vickers, Mario Gosselin, Shane Huffman, Mark McFarland, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Brian Scott, Drew Herring, and many more, and in that aspect, it was a success.

In the end, perhaps the best description of the Sportsman Division is as a “baptism by fire”. It put drivers who weren’t experienced in big tracks and high speeds in dangerous situations and expected them to react like NASCAR’s finest. Some did, and others did not. The Division was destructive, entertaining, and interesting, and it left a lasting impression. Yet all the destruction and injuries the Division suffered makes one wonder what would have happened had the proposed 1991 Sportsman race at Daytona occurred.

Yes, that was an actual proposal.

 

Sources:

Ultimateracinghistory.com

“Auto racing”, Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), January 21, 1989

“New division starting”, Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky), January 26, 1989

“Big time sportsman”, The Greenville News, May 25, 1989

“Sportsman winner disqualified at Charlotte”, The Greenville News, May 26, 1989

“Tallahassee driver falls short in Wiscassett race”, Tallahassee Democrat, October 6, 1989

“Crew chief defends ill-fated driver”, Florida Today, May 19, 1990

“Sportsman Division not ready for Daytona”, Greensboro News & Record, May 19, 1990

“Area drivers assess death of Gaines as freak accident”, Asheville Citizen-Times, May 25, 1990

“Greer driver injured in qualifying session”, The Greenville News, May 19, 1991

“Crash update”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 20, 1991

“Faggart claims flag at Goody’s”, The Gastonia Gazette, May 23, 1991

“More drivers injured in Sportsman race”, The Tennesseean, May 26, 1991

“Darnell races after his dream”, The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia), June 2, 1991

“Setzer wins”, The Greenville News, July 21, 1991

“Rain forces qualifying delay”, The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), October 3, 1991

“Racing accident claims life of county restaurant owner”, The Greenville News, May 17, 1992

“Sportsman cheater”, Gastonia Gaston Gazette, May 17, 1992

“Faggart Sportsman’s winner”, The Anniston Star, May 17, 1992

“Bender wins Duron 100”, The Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), May 24, 1992

“NASCAR Sportsman Division offers Winston Cup thrills”, Lassen County Times (Susanville, California), August 18, 1992

“Faggart wins race”, The Greenville News, October 11, 1992

“Crash helps Bender win Sportsman race”, The Atlanta Constitution, May 23, 1993

“Bender wins Sportsman”, The Greenville News, May 27, 1993

“Smith wins caution-free race”, The Index Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina), May 30, 1993

“Shelmerdine wins”, The Greenville News, October 10, 1993

“Duron Paints & Wallcoverings 100”, Tampa Bay Times, May 29, 1994

“Ward, Rector win after Fowler’s disqualification”, The Greenville News, July 17, 1994

“Speedway to drop Sportsman class”, Tampa Bay Times, September 13, 1994

“Dunn dreams about NASCAR”, Florida Today (Cocoa, Florida), October 1, 1994

“Holt racing driver has two types of fun on track”, Pensacola News Journal, October 5, 1994

“Gaita’s debut”, The Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), October 7, 1994

“Ward dominates Sportsman race”, The Greenville News, October 9, 1994

“As the Romans do…”, The Greenville News, May 21, 1995

“Fowler holds off Lesneski at finish”, GoUpstate, May 27, 1995

“Sportsman race”, The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana), May 28, 1995

“Fowler gets revenge in Sportsman race”, The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), June 10, 1995

“Charlotte drops Sportsman class”, The Greenville News, November 29, 1995

“Marietta’s Ward wins in Florida”, The Greenville News, November 4, 1996

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Who Was David Gaines?

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.

#36 David Gaines
Credit to @wrangler3chevy

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.

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Credit to The Anniston Star

Looking to move up, Gaines purchased an Oldsmobile 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.

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Credit to Racer’s Reunion

On May 16th, a practice session was held for the drivers. This was to be the last practice session before registration, and as such, some drivers ran unnumbered cars with the plan to register the next day. During the session, Ted Comstock of Rockwell, North Carolina spun his car through turn four, skidding up the track and sending the Pontiac of successful Australian stock car racer Terri Sawyer, of Melbourne, into the wall. As Gaines came on scene, his #36 Chatlee Boat and Marine Oldsmobile Cutlass was clipped from behind by Stouffville, Ontario’s Peter Gibbons, causing Gaines to strike a set of water barrels on the track’s inside.

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Credit to AP
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Credit to AP

Steve McEachern, 29, of Phoenix, approached the site of the wreck with the speedway caution lights still flashing. McEachern piloted his unnumbered Chevrolet, a recent purchase from Dale Earnhardt, on the inside through the turn at high speed, seemingly attempting to race back to the line. With little time to react, he 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 also 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.

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Credit to AP; The man squatting, head in hands, is Todd Gaines

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.

 

Sources:

“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

 

The Non-Competitor Cup Fatalities

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.

 

STEVE CLARK

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 into 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.

 

W.R. THOMASSON

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.

Bobby_Johns_upsidedown
Credit to Legends of NASCAR

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.

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McDuffie; Credit to Georgia Racing History

Joe Lee Johnson withdrew from the race after the incident. NASCAR would eventually order the construction of a barrier to protect the pit lane.

 

RANDY OWENS

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.

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Credit to Findagrave

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 racer and 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.

 

DENNIS WADE

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.

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Credit to Findagrave

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 hadn’t run too far out into the pit lane. Wade was noted to have ‘frozen’ when Watson spun towards him.

 

MIKE RICH

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.

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Credit to Kirt Achenbach (Rich is at far right, with light hair and dark beard)

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.

 

Sources:

Motorsportmemorial

“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

13 Unknown NASCAR Flips

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. In fact, though very slowly, information about new flips is still coming in…

 

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 #11 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…

JesseeSample
Credit to Billy Downs

Jesse Samples plowed his #96 Unsponsored 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)

Whoops?

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Credit to JalopyJournal.com

Darel Dieringer managed to upend his #16 Unsponsored 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 Unsponsored 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.

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Comes from the 1978 World 600 programme

42 drivers showed up to the 1977 World 600 at Charlotte for 40 spots, so several rounds of qualifying were held. On the Friday before the race, the 12 drivers who had not yet timed their way in took to the track going for the remaining 10 positions. During this “last chance” session, Rick Newsom lost control of his car off of turn four and struck the wall. As the car came down the track, the #78 Unsponsored Chevrolet of Bruce Jacobi plowed into Newsom. The contact was so hard that it jarred Jacobi very high 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. Both cars were demolished, so Newsom and Jacobi ended up being the two DNQs.

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 Wangerin Incorporated 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.

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Credit to Real Racin’ USA

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 Ventura 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.

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Credit to Racers Reunion

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 Ventura 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 Sunoco Pontiac Grand Prix 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.

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Credit to Phil Fowler, Jody R. Standridge, and Brandon Chrasta

Billy Standridge flipped his #47 Standridge Auto Parts Pontiac Grand Prix 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 Gilliland Racing Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme 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 Monte Carlo 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.

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Credit to Rubbin’s Racin’

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 early 2002, Brian Vickers blew a tire exiting turn two and flipped his #29 Dodge Intrepid on its lid, presumably after hitting the oddly-sloped backstretch wall.

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Source currently unknown

CrashTwice’s flip list

List of NASCAR Flips 1941 – Present (Reddit)

NASCAR Flips 1941-Present (Rubbins-racin)

50 Most Bizarre Car Racing Moments REDONE (19-11)

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.

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Credit to Randy Ayres

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.

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Credit to The Fastlane

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…

18. RADOSLAW KORDECKI’S CRASH (2010, S2000/GT, SLOVAKIARING)

NEW TO LIST

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.

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Credit to formule.cz

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.

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Credit to Shiftinglanes

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 entries 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…

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Credit to Motorsport.com

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.

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Credit to F1-web

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.

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Screencap

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 copying 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.

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Credit to Inside Dirt Racing

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.

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Credit to Dailymail

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.

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Credit to CarAndBike

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, they reverted results to how they were after five laps, meaning Cao was instead the winner.

50 Most Bizarre Car Racing Moments REDONE (27-20)

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.

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Credit to Online Athens

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)

NEW TO LIST

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.

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Screencap

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.

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Credit to Enterprise News and Pictures

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)

NEW TO LIST

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.

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Credit to racingsportscars

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)

NEW TO LIST

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.

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Credit to Wikipedia

 

22. PETER BRAID’S CRASH (1949, FORMULA 3, BLANDFORD)

NEW TO LIST

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.

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Credit to The Chicane

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.

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Credit to Mecanica Online

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.

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Credit to Mecanica Online

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.

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Credit to World News

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.

 

Cancelled Events

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

1967: Italian F3 at Caserta*

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

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Credit to GPX

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

Caserta
Credit to Theracingline (track was run clockwise)

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

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

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

1973: MotoGP at Monza*

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

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

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

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

1973: Italian Junior Racers Championship at Monza*

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

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

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

1990: Copa Nissan Sunny at Roca Roja*

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

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

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

1997: Japanese Formula Three at Fuji*

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

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

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

1999: Indycar at Charlotte*

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

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

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

2001: CART at Texas

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

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

2005: Italian GT at Imola

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

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

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

2008: NEMA at Thompson*

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

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

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

Hammond was dead on arrival to the hospital. Spectators were aware of his passing by the final race of the day. NEMA took some time off from the Thompson Speedway for the next few years, but has since returned to the somewhat large one kilometer oval. A new race joined the schedule in 2010 at the Waterford Speedbowl by the name of the Shane Hammond Memorial, and it’s still held to this day.

2011: Indycar at Las Vegas*

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

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

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

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

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Credit to Daily Mail

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

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

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

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

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

INDY-COLISION
Dan’s car; Credit to AP

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

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

USP INDYCAR: PHOENIX GRAND PRIX-PRACTICE S CAR USA AZ
Credit to USA Today; Note the covers over the rear wheels meant to prevent wheel to wheel contact, a frequent cause of massive accidents in open wheel racing

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

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

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Credit to Wikimedia

2011: MotoGP at Malaysia*

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

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

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

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

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

2012: Russian Racing Championship at Smolensk*

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

The Smolenskring is another one of the circuits. It opened in 2010, and sits about halfway between Moscow and the Byelorussian 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.