Cancelled Events

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

1967: Italian F3 at Caserta*

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

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Credit to GPX

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

Caserta
Credit to Theracingline (track was run clockwise)

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

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

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

1973: MotoGP at Monza*

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

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

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

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

1973: Italian Junior Racers Championship at Monza*

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

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

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

1990: Copa Nissan Sunny at Roca Roja*

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

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

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

1997: Japanese Formula Three at Fuji*

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

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

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

1999: Indycar at Charlotte*

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

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

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

2001: CART at Texas

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

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

2005: Italian GT at Imola

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

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

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

2008: NEMA at Thompson*

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

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

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

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

2011: Indycar at Las Vegas*

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

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

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

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

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Credit to Daily Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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 Belarusian border. It’s a fast circuit despite its many twists and turns, which led to tragedy one day a few years after it opened.

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

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

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The Forgotten Fatality: Rick Baldwin

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

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

RickBaldwin
Credit to TrackForum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screencap

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

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Screencap

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

‘Rick Baldwin’, Motorsport Memorial

The Death Of Chris Trickle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit to Findagrave

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Sources:

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

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