Well, we’re back. I decided to redo this list and see what new incidents and bouts of stupidity I could add. Fifty strange, bizarre and wild moments across the racing spectrum. I will not be including drag racing, motorcycles, or rallies simply to ease up on my selections. Maybe I’ll do separate lists for those another day, but for now…let’s get started.
50. JIMMY WATTS TIRE INCIDENT (2009, NASCAR CUP, ATLANTA)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 43RD
On lap 69 of the 2009 Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a tire was spotted rolling out into the quadoval grass by several crewmen during the pit stop cycle. NASCAR’s policy is for crewmen to stay put if this happens, but evidently someone was not listening.
By trade a fireman in his late thirties, Jimmy Watts, the gasman for the #47 JTG-Daugherty car of Marcos Ambrose and a NASCAR crewman since at least 1998 according to the LA Times, rushed out to gather the tire and rolled it back to waiting officials. The pit stop cycle was under way, so had he not done this, NASCAR likely would have waited until the tire rolled further towards the track surface to throw the caution. However, with a crew member in the infield, NASCAR was forced to put the race under yellow during the pit stop cycle, trapping several cars a lap down. Watts would be banned for four races, with last updates noting the possibility of further penalties. He was also put on probation for the rest of the year. Watts publicly apologized, and even Marcos Ambrose himself noted that Watts’ decision to fetch the tire was not very smart.
Interestingly, according to motorsport.com, Watts was a fire captain in the city of Charlotte in 2002, and was mourning the loss of a fireman under his watch at the time of the interview. Watts knew tragedy, making this decision to cross the track even less understandable. Watts still works as a firefighter in the Charlotte area, and he still works as a gasman for Front Row Motorsports according to NASCAR’s website.
49. ARCA BRAKES DURING PRACTICE (1995, ARCA, DAYTONA)
NEW TO LIST
During practice for the 1995 ARCA Daytona 200, 1990 ARCA Series champion Bob Brevak, a grizzled veteran making one of his last couple starts in the series, spun his car and backed it into the wall in turn four. The veteran was uninjured, and the red flag was waved on the session as a safety truck arrived on scene.
ARCA is famous for the term ‘ARCA Brakes’, meaning drivers refuse to slow down in a crash. Though mostly falsely attributed to the ARCA Series, there have indeed been many instances of them in the series itself, with the following being a fairly unknown one.
Ron Burchette, an owner driver from North Carolina who mostly ran the big tracks, refused to slow down as he entered the accident scene and shot in between the stalled #34 and the safety truck. Burchette eventually slowed to a stop on the trioval apron, where he was promptly yelled at by the usually level-headed track workers. Brevak would fail to finish the 200, while Burchette, who retired from ARCA after a spectacular crash in the infamous Atlanta race the next year, finished tenth.
48. CRASH UNDER RED (2013, WTCC, MACAU)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 30TH
The World Touring Car Championship has fallen very far over the past couple years, but they’re at least trying to get some viewership and entries back, with the reintroduction of the famous Guia Race of Macau and some new gimmicks such as rallycross-style Joker Laps. But back to Macau, it’s a twisty hillside circuit with a few full speed highway sectors. Over the top of one of these hills was where the field would epic fail in 2013.
During the race, Tom Chilton suffered an exhaust failure on his Chevrolet Cruze and stalled the car at Maternity. Local driver Eurico de Jesus, in a Honda Accord, rounded the blind turn and, unsighted, plowed into the back of Chilton. Franz Engstler stopped his BMW 320 on the track’s outside, and so did Yvan Muller in his Cruze. Macanese driver Felipe de Souza in a Cruze, Hong Konger Charles Ng in a BMW, and Macanese Henry Ho in another BMW all piled in to Muller and Engstler, and the red flag was waved.
Even with the red flag having flown, several drivers seemingly did not care. Yukinori Taniguchi zoomed up the hill and smashed on the brakes, having noticed that the flagmen were putting their yellow flags down. Taniguchi did not hit anyone. Michael Soong and Jo Merszei (#70), on the other hand, were too busy battling to bother slowing down. Soong, a Hong Konger in a Seat Leon, and Merszei, a Macau native in a BMW, crashed into the back at Taniguchi despite the fact that the race had already been red flagged. Despite a second red flag, the race was resumed, with de Jesus, Chilton, Ng, Soong, Merszei, and Taniguchi out of the race.
47. JEAN ALESI JUMP START (2009, SPEEDCAR, BAHRAIN)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 50TH
Speedcars were an intriguing experiment.
In short, the Speedcar Series was a stock car series that ran in Asia for two seasons, 2008 and 2008-09. It was a neat idea, having F1 legends such as Vitantonio Liuzzi, Jacques Villeneuve, Jean Alesi, and Ukyo Katayama race stock cars across the Middle East, but due to finances the series did not last long.
At the series’ final race at Bahrain, the lights seemingly were delayed for whatever reason, and the drivers, performing a rolling start, were forced to stay in line until the race began. Jean Alesi, however, was unwilling to wait and, despite starting in the back, he was leading by turn one, having achieved one of the most blatant jump starts in all of motorsports by zipping by the entire grid before the lights had triggered.
Alesi would not finish the race, which was won by Vitantonio Liuzzi, very well. The series, organized out of the British Virgin Islands of all places, ran out of money shortly thereafter when its backer pulled out, and that was the end of that.
46. JARED CARLYLE HORSE JUMP (2007, NZV8, PUKEKOHE)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 29TH
Being part of a team owned by, according to tentenths, one of the members of AC/DC, isn’t a guaranteed pass for a driver to be very lucky.
Pukekohe Park in New Zealand is really weird. It’s a circuit full of swerves which, with the exception of a hairpin, are all high speed. It also used to be pretty low quality in terms of the circuit itself, possibly stemming from the fact that there’s a steeplechase layout for horses. But all in all, it just wasn’t a high quality circuit. A V8 Supercar famously took out a pole on which a PA transmitter was situated in 2005, warranting a red flag. In 2008, a pileup during the NZV8 race saw one car break one of the gates and four cars get on top of the guardrail, which folded, allowing two of them to go over the wall.
But youngster Jared Carlyle, part of a team apparently owned by one of the AC/DC members, showed just how ridiculous this track once was. He got turned around on the back chute in 2007 and took a wild ride over a horse jump.
After 2008, Pukekohe dropped off the V8 schedule, but returned in 2013 as a new and improved facility with proper tire walls, runoff, barriers where needed, and a new chicane at the end of the back chute. It’s stayed on ever since.
45. MAYR-MELNHOF FLIPS IN THE PIT LANE (2011, FIA GT, SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 36TH
Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof, a sports car racer out of Austria, Eugenio Amos, the gentleman racer from Italy who is also the husband of model Margherita Missoni, and HSH Prince Albert Von Thurn Und Taxis, a billionaire leader of one of Germany’s Houses, came together for the 2011 24h of Spa in a Lamborghini Gallardo. Unfortunately, their effort ended just past the second hour.
Spa has two pit lanes, the F1 pit lane, where cars enter off the chicane and exit off of La Source, and the regular pit lane, which is entered off of La Source and exited off of Eau Rouge, with an access area lasting through Radillon. If the event has a large field size, such as the Spa 24h, the pit lanes are combined.
Entering the pit lane too quickly, Mayr-Melnhof slid his car on the wet access road. The car shot across the grass and struck a barrier right in front of the marshals and turning the car onto its door. Mayr-Melnhof was unhurt, but his day was over, and a safety car was warranted.
Mayr-Melnhof ran in the Blancpain Sprint Series in 2017, while Amos and Von Thurn Und Taxis spent the year racing where they pleased. I suppose when you have money…
44. D.C. CROWDER STEALS THE PACE CAR (1986, NASCAR CUP, TALLADEGA)
RANK ON PREVIOUS LIST: 47TH
This one’s famous.
When the command to start engines at the 1986 Winston 500 was given, not everyone had stepped into their cars. Specifically, the pace car driver was out talking to a few officials still.
Enter Darren Charles Crowder, a 20 year old from Birmingham who’d had too much to drink and was standing in the pit lane. Seeing his opportunity, he hopped in and started up the red Pontiac Trans Am to take it for a 100mph joyride. Seemingly not every official had been told who the pace car driver was, so it took a bit for the officials to know it was stolen. Reportedly, the first words acknowledging the situation from an official who did know were: “Who’s that f–ker in the pace car?” (The Drive)
When the situation was identified however, the response was quick. Crowder was greeted by a roadblock of Alabama’s best when he came around to finish lap two, and he decided to slow, only to decide against giving up and lock the car’s doors according to The Drive. Someone had found a spare set of keys, and he unlocked the car’s doors, then Crowder locked them again before the doors could be opened. This pattern continued for a bit until Crowder was too slow in locking the door and was removed from the car. He was arrested, the race was started, and Bobby Allison would bring it home.
Interestingly, there appears to be no further documentation on Darren Charles Crowder. He’s disappeared off the Earth a la D.B. Cooper. Shall we call him D.C. Crowder?
The days when the European Touring Car Championship was relevant…
As the field rolled in to Silverstone, the Jaguars were coming off of an excellent run at Spa, which they’d dominated similarly to how they’d destroyed the field so far that year. Mother Nature seemingly wasn’t on the side of the Jaguars, however, and she showed it in an incredible downpour.
A bit past halfway in the 107 lap race, the skies suddenly darkened while most of the cavalry was out on slicks. Rallyman Marc Duez was first off in a Rover, and from there cars just kept piling in. BMW driver Barrie Williams was in for a scare when he had to jump on the roof of Chuck Nicholson’s Jaguar to avoid the spinning Alfa Romeo of Terry Drury. Interestingly, most of the lapped cars were stuck in the pit lane still due to reduced priority in pit stops, so they were mostly spared. The Rover of Duez-Allam, the Jaguar of Percy-Nicholson, the Alfa Romeo of Drury-Wilds, the BMW of Williams-Sytner were out of the race, with the BMW of Felder-Hamelmann suffering heavy damage but eventually continuing after the restart. The race’s eventual winner were the pairing of Kelleners-Brancatelli in the BMW, though Jaguar easily brought it all home at season’s end.
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.
‘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.
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.
“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
Irwindale Speedway has had a rocky existence. It was a death palace in its first couple of years, after which it became the drift palace for both the American drifting aces and the Japanese kings of the skid pads. It closed to everything but select events in 2012 and saw weekly events only in 2013, and its existence is now being affirmed on a year by year basis. It was supposed to close after 2015 and become an outlet mall, but at the tail end of 2015, it was announced that it would see a 2016 season, and that 2016 would be its last. At the tail end of 2016, it was announced that it would see a 2017 season. Irwindale`s fighting hard to stay open, and I hope it does, both because it`s a good short track and because it`s also a memorial to those who were lost in its first four years. When or if the families of the deceased ever go to the Event Center, they`ll be reminded of their fallen loved ones. I don`t really think an outlet mall will have the same effect…
The final fatality on the oval at Irwindale happened in 2002 during a NASCAR Southwest race, and is the most recent crash related fatality in NASCAR to occur outside of the Modifieds or an International series. The driver, however, has mostly been forgotten, so much so that I actually had to use the Wayback Machine to find a picture, though I eventually did find one.
Who was John Baker?
Credit to RacingWest
John Elvis Baker was born on August 5th, 1953 in Mesa, Arizona. His upbringing and early adulthood were both fairly unremarkable, though by no means were they unpleasant. In 1981, John moved to Tucson, where he started a business by the name of Mid State Trucking and Rigging. He married a woman by the name of Robin in an unknown year and had three children, Rachel, Justin, and John Jr., the latter two being twins.
Baker eventually fell in love with racing. He took to the short tracks for a couple of years, then decided to hop on up to the NASCAR Southwest Series in 1997. He usually ran midfield, though occasionally netted a top ten. He was running very well at Sonoma in 1999 when he made contact with Rudy Revak and shot off course in turn ten. Baker struck the tires and flipped once and a half, coming to a stop inverted. He was unhurt.
Baker found some success in 2001, netting a 4th place finish in a 250 lap smashfest at the Las Vegas Bullring, and a 5th across the lot in a 100 mile event at the big oval.
Baker, despite only occasionally running up front in his self owned white #18 Mid State Trucking and Rigging-sponsored Chevrolet, was a popular face in the garage. He was kind and welcoming, and had a sense of humor about him. He apparently had a sort of online persona or something along those lines, Sheriff Baker, though I couldn`t find much more on that, or, for that matter, much on anything.
On June 8th, 2002, Baker took to the track at Irwindale Speedway for a 150 lap race. He was the polesitter for the first time in his tenure in NASCAR Southwest. He quickly started to fall back, but still was running well at the one quarter mark.
Irwindale Speedway was heralded as a modern track, one of the safest in the world, when it opened in 1999. Honestly, I can`t help but shake my head at that statement and how far from the truth it was. On opening night in March 1999, Casey Diemert, a racer in USAC`s Western Midget Division, was killed when he struck the turn three wall at full speed during practice. In a rather disgusting move, opening night continued like nothing had ever happened, with Diemert`s passing only revealed in the next morning`s papers. During a stock pickup race in September of that year, Keith Cowherd was clipped and struck an unpadded section of the wall, dealing him injuries he`d later succumb to. In 2001, Chris Shields, a Winston Racing (now Whelen All American) crew chief, was taking part in a racing school session when he crashed and died. 2001 also saw an incredible accident when Kevin Wood and Todd Burns collided during a late model event and struck the turn one pit entry gate in spectacular fashion. Both drivers survived.
On lap 37 of 150 of the plainly-named Irwindale 150, John was racing on the outside of Greg Voigt when Sean Woodside, who was running right behind the #18, gave him a bit of a bump. Baker got loose, struck Voigt`s car, overcorrected. The crowd of 6160 watched as he shot diagonally up the circuit and struck an angled barrier at the pit exit head on with full force. The car lost all of its forward motion on impact, and slid back down the track sideways, clipping Austin Cameron along the way. The race was red flagged while John was extricated, and resumed after he was taken to the hospital. David Gilliland was the eventual winner. Witnesses would later say that it heavily resembled Dale Earnhardt`s fatal accident.
In 2002, HANS devices were required at big speedways, but at short tracks such as Irwindale, they were optional. As long as the driver had some sort of restraint, they would be allowed to race. It didn`t have to be the HANS device. It`s unknown as to whether or not Baker had a HANS device, though I believe I remember reading somewhere that he did (take this with a grain of salt, being as I don`t have a source).
Robin was by her husband`s side when he took his last breath later that evening, aged 48. Robin eventually took over John`s business and still runs it to this day.
Irwindale refused to comment on the matter when it first occurred, and NASCAR redirected all questions to its corporate offices. Irwindale only acknowledged the death of John Baker on the 12th, and shut down the track for some time without giving much reasoning why. There previously had been three gates, one access gate and two for the pit area. In the aftermath, the pit entry, previously at the beginning of turn one, was shifted back to just before turn one. The pit exit, previously a gate off of two, was moved to where the access area was on the backstretch. The old pit exit that John struck was forever sealed off. Extra padding was added to the walls at the pit entry and pit exit gates. The Irwindale 150 was not shown on television, and photos of the crash did once exist, though they appear to have expired over the fifteen years since the accident. I don`t believe they even mentioned the death during the Sonoma broadcast, despite Sonoma only being two weeks after.
Despite one of the worst responses to a fatality I`ve ever seen, Irwindale did at least act upon their circuit`s faults. Irwindale has not seen another fatality on its oval since, and NASCAR ended the Southwest Series, along with the Northwest, Midwest, and Southeast Series, after 2006. The Southwest Series lives on, however, in the SRL Southwest Tour, a spiritual successor, and with it, the memory of John Baker in some of its more experienced drivers such as Craig Raudman.
Racing is a dangerous sport, and sometimes the footage of certain incidents have been withheld from the public due to just how horrible they were. These are all of the examples that I am personally aware of or have every reason to believe exists.
1985: The Atlanta ARCA 500k (BROADCAST)
Apparently, the USA Network was planning on showing an ARCA race at the Atlanta International Raceway in June 1985 on tape delay, but this had to be aborted after a massive accident claimed the life of a driver. It was promoted as a fairly prestigious event, with a rather high purse and a figurehead grand marshal in NASCAR founder Bill France.
On lap 32, New Zealander Stuart Lyndon went around off of turn two at full speed and slammed into the inside earth wall with ungodly force. Steel and concrete barriers have some give, especially steel, and cars will often bounce off of them as needed. Steel and concrete barriers can also be shoved back a few centimeters or even break if the impacts are especially hard. Well packed dirt has absolutely no ‘give’. When cars strike earth walls, they either come to a complete stop or vault over the top of the earth wall, depending on its angle. In Lyndon’s case, the impact was so brutal that the roll cage completely shattered and Lyndon was thrown through the windshield. He was dead at the scene. The race continued and was won by Davey Allison, but the broadcast, if it was actually going to occur in the first place, was called off.
1990: The ARCA 200 (BROADCAST)
ESPN was planning on showing the 1990 ARCA 200 on tape delay, but decided not to after a vicious crash late.
A multicar pileup struck in turn four with about five laps to go, sending many cars into the wall, the car of Slick Johnson hitting it especially hard. Several medics ran over to the drivers involved in the crash, wanting to see what assistance they could give.
Bob Keselowski, father of 2012 NASCAR Cup champion Brad, was driving by the accident when his car snapped left and he spun down the banking. Bob’s car hit that of Kevin Gundaker, knocking Gundaker’s car into Mike Staley, the paramedic assisting Gundaker at the time. The race was not ended, per se, but it did not go back to green flag conditions. The field was paced around under caution for the rest of regulation distance and Jimmy Horton crossed the line in first.
Staley made a near-full recovery. He wasn’t able to return to being a paramedic, but was last seen giving motivational speeches. Slick Johnson, a short track expert whose real first name was Julius, suffered severe head injuries in the crash, and he did not survive. Johnson died three days later, aged 41.
A few years later, Rescue 911 asked ESPN if they could use the crash footage for a segment on Mike Staley’s survival. Their request was accepted, and the footage is readily available online. However, the broadcast itself has never been shown, likely due to the Staley collision.
1991: The Fatal Crash Of Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick’s older brother Derek had already made it to Formula One, and Paul was looking to do the same. He’d absolutely destroyed the field in the first few British F3000 Series races in 1991, and was looking to do the same at Oulton Park. However, late in the going, something went on Paul’s car and he crashed at the incredibly fast Knickerbrook corner. Paul was ejected from the vehicle and died almost instantly.
Being as it was 1991, anyone who wanted to film for memory’s sake had to lug around a large camcorder. Police collected and confiscated all the spectator footage they could, and turned it over to the Warwick family. The one photo above is the only known photo ever released of the accident.
The race was ended on the spot, and Paul was declared the winner, as he had been leading at the time. Paul Warwick had been so dominant in the season and had built up such a points lead that he, despite missing half the races, was eventually declared champion – posthumously.
1994: The Tragedy At Alice Springs
In 1994, Alan Horsley organized the Cannonball Run, a race from Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia to Alice Springs, Northern Territory and then back to Darwin. The race was criticized from the getgo, mostly due to the laws of the Territory (such as no speed limit and the prohibition of suing for compensation from car makers). The event had three formats. The first was ‘Flying Mile’, a one mile run down a straight bit of road with a rolling start that gave points for how quickly the one mile run was finished. There was also the distance run, in which competitors were released at set intervals and had to complete the ~100km stages in a certain amount of time, and received points for how close to the posted time they were, being penalized for finishing too slowly or too quickly. Drivers also had to drive from the end of a stage to the start of the next one, known as ‘displacement’. Roads were closed for the Flying Mile, but not for distance runs, a lesser issue due to the lack of a speed limit on the Territory’s highways. Police asked members of the public to stay off the roads during the event, but had no authority to stop them. Incredibly, the Flying Mile was the only time competitors had to wear helmets.
Akihiro Kabe and Takeshi Okono were one of the 142 entries. The pair were not only very successful dentists in Japan, but they were also cousins. Kabe headed down to Australia just before the event and tested his Ferrari F40 at the Hidden Valley Raceway near Darwin. Instructors heavily criticized his driving, but organizers decided not to require a driving test. Kabe, with co-driver Okono, quickly took the lead upon the event’s start.
On Day 3, May 24th, 1994, Kabe apparently slowed up for a checkpoint 83km south of Alice Springs during a displacement run. As it turned out, his map was wrong. Annoyed, Kabe sped up to make up lost time and eventually found himself behind a Holden Commodore. From the corner of his eye, either Kabe or Okono spotted the checkpoint on a gravel road to the outside of long sweeping bend. Kabe, knowing he’d be penalized for speeding into a checkpoint, mashed the brakes. The Ferrari slid and crashed into a parked Jeep in which the checkpoint’s overseers were seated, killing Kabe, Okono, and the Jeep’s occupants, Keith Pritchard and Tim Linklater. Keith, ironically, was one of the instructors at Hidden Valley who had hazed Kabe’s driving ability.
Either the crash itself or aftermath was caught on camera and was broadcasted to the public once, but the Australian government quickly seized the footage and has remained very tight lipped on it since. The race continued on after a day off to sort things out, and was completed. It has never been held again. Pritchard’s widow sued the organizers, but the lawsuit was chucked due to the aforementioned prohibition on suing for compensation after car accidents in the Territory. This prohibition has apparently been overturned in the years since.
1995: The 1995 Sportsman 100 (BROADCAST)
Russell Phillips raced in a Sportsman Series that existed in the early to mid 1990s, and during a race at Charlotte in 1995, the ironically squeamish Phillips was killed in what’s often considered the worst crash seen in NASCAR’s history.
In short, contact between him and another car, that of Steven Howard, sent Phillips roof-first into the fence. The roof was completely sheared away, and Phillips was savagely dismembered. For some bizarre reason, the race continued after a cleanup, and the second race (it was a doubleheader) was also held. The race Russell was killed during, known simply as the Sportsman 100, was won by Gary Laton, and the second race, the Duron Paints And Wallcoverings 100, was won by Lester Lesneski.
Footage of the accident does exist, and it’s widely available. However, the Sportsman Series races were often recorded to be shown on tape delay, and this race was no exception. The broadcast of the race was never shown out of decency, nor was the much-calmer second race of the doubleheader the next day. Whether the broadcast was immediately aborted or continued and scrapped later is unknown. The Sportsman Series was ridden of after 1995, though it did run a few short tracks in 1996 with small fields and even smaller interest.
1995: The Fatal Crash Of Russell Phillips (AFTERMATH)
The aftermath footage of Russell’s fatal crash and the cleanup has also never been released with the exception of one very brief clip of the catchfence being cleaned.
Again, the race continued on after the accident like nothing had ever happened. Winner’s ceremonies were not cancelled after the accident, and during his interview, Gary Laton did not address Phillips’ crash, nor was he asked about it. The Sportsman Series, which used old Cup and Busch cars with massive speed reductions, showed the flaws with the day’s cars. Over the course of 45 races, a dozen drivers had been severely injured, and three were dead. The only reason this hadn’t all happened in Cup was driver experience. After this and Dale Earnhardt’s horrific crash in 1996 at Talladega, the Earnhardt Bar was implemented as an extra roof support.
1996: The Fatal Crash Of Mike Cooke
During qualifying for the 1996 NASCAR Southwest Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, driver Mike Cooke blew a tire, spun, and struck the wall with the driver`s side in turn four. Cooke was beyond saving by the time he was even reached, and in response authorities readied tarps before they extricated him. Though he was still alive upon arrival to the hospital, Cooke died later that day.
Apparently, there were photographers at the track, but it appears that no one took any pictures before the tarps were placed over the scene, or if they did, the photos were not released. What killed him was, as far as I’m aware, never made public. However, those who did get a peek were treated to a bloody scene. Qualifying was called off after this, but the race itself went forward. Cooke, 49, was new to racing, having started it in 1993. He was apparently planning on retiring within the coming weeks so he could spend more time with the grandchildren. Cooke is one of two drivers to die during a Southwest Series event, the other being John Baker in 2002 (oddly, Baker is often misreported as being the same age as Cooke, when he was actually 48).
1996: The Fatal Crash Of Elmer Trett
On August 31st, 1996, Blaine Johnson, the NHRA Top Fuel Dragster points leader, ran the length of the quarter mile dragstrip at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 4.612 seconds, a track record. Immediately after crossing the line, something broke on the dragster and it shifted to the left. Johnson tried to save it, but the vehicle angled over to the right while still skidding left. The dragster struck an opening in the wall, and unfortunately, it struck the wall right where the cockpit was. Johnson, 32, passed during surgery later that day. Footage of this DOES exist.
The next day, September 1st, 53-year-old Elmer Trett, a veteran of motorcycle drag racing, fell off his bike at 230mph and slid into the sand trap at the end of the strip. There wasn’t much anyone could do for Trett, who was reportedly almost disfigured by the somersaults his body did when it hit the sand trap. Exactly one replay of the accident was shown on the track’s big screen, and after that, the crash was never shown again in any context.
In 2013, drag bike racer Chris Matheson fell from his bike at about the same speed of 230mph. He was lucky enough to escape with little more than severe bruising and a broken foot. Footage of his spill is readily available, and witnesses say that Matheson’s crash was very similar to how Trett’s started.
1997: The Fatal Crash Of Sebastien Enjolras
21-year-old rising talent Sebastien Enjolras was killed in early May of 1997 when his Peugeot WR97 open top prototype lost something and spun out of control during a pre-qualifying practice session for that year’s running of the 24 Hours Of Le Mans. The vehicle blew over and passed so low over the wall that Sebastien was brutally guillotined, then rolled several times into oblivion. It was one of the most violent crashes in Le Mans history. Organizers responded by immediately banning one-piece bodywork cars such as the WR97 he had been running.
Footage of the accident exists, as pre-qualifying practice was normally filmed, and sits in the hands of Peugeot, ACO, and the Enjolras family. Very few details have been revealed of what it contains, but it apparently shows what happened to Enjolras in disturbingly high quality.
1999: The Fatal Crash Of Neil Shanahan
On May 31, 1999, Neil Shanahan, a promising 19-year-old driver from Ireland, crashed into a barrier during a three car accident on lap two of the British Formula Ford Zetec Championship. The crash occurred at Clay Hill, a medium speed corner off of Knickerbrook, so while it was a massive hit, it apparently was not one most people would have expected to actually kill Neil. However, it did, and Neil died on the way to the hospital from massive head injuries. Oulton Park was heavily criticized for lack of proper safety features after the accident.
Neil’s parents were given the footage that was taken of his crash. They explained that they wished to understand exactly what happened. Very little mention of the footage has been made since.
1999: The Wild Crash Of Peter Dumbreck (ONBOARD)
Ah, the Mercedes-Benz CLR…this aerodynamically UNsound car suffered its third front flip of the 1999 24 Hours Of Le Mans weekend when Peter Dumbreck lifted off during the race. Despite amount of times Dumbreck`s incredible ride was replayed during the slowdown period, they did not show the onboard shot of Dumbreck.
Interestingly, Peter Dumbreck`s Mercedes-Benz CLR actually did have an onboard camera. In fact, they had done a whole onboard lap at one point in the broadcast. However, its capturing of the accident was never shown. It ‘s possible that the high ups at Mercedes, having seen the crash, immediately phoned up the broadcasting team and ordered them not to use the onboard shot. While Dumbreck escaped from the wreckage with few injuries, the onboard shot of his wild cartwheel has never been shown. Mercedes-Benz withdrew from Le Mans yet again, having done so for the first time in 1955 after driver Pierre Levegh’s car crashed into the crowd and killed upwards of 80 people, and has yet to return as of 2017.
2002: The Irwindale 150 (BROADCAST)
Despite being promoted as an ultra-safe track, Irwindale Event Center was a complete and utter death palace in its early days, having suffered a fatality on opening night in 1999, a second death later that year, and a third in late 2001. It took a fourth fatality in 2002 for track owners to actually do something.
On lap 37 of the 150 lap NASCAR Southwest race on June 8, 2002, contact between John Baker and Sean Woodside in turn two sent Baker’s car glancing off of Greg Voigt’s and straight up the track and head-on into a gate, dealing Baker fatal injuries. The race was briefly red flagged, but it eventually went on. The victory went to a young David Gilliland. The race was going to be broadcasted on tape delay a couple of days later, but the broadcast was never shown. The Goody’s Dash race at Daytona from that February was shown instead. Irwindale cancelled the next weekend’s events and sealed off the gate that Baker had struck among other track alterations, never giving much of a reason as to why.
2003: The Fatal Crash Of Tony Renna
On October 22nd, 2003, the Indy Racing League held a test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its tires. During this session, Tony Renna, who had only just signed with Chip Ganassi as the teammate of future Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, went around in turn three at 230mph. Very little is known about what exactly happened in the crash itself, but what is known is that the car took to the skies and struck the catchfence, killing Renna immediately. The catchfence and barrier were both in need of massive repair, and the bleachers behind turn three were apparently so thoroughly damaged that they might have been replaced.
Praise quickly turned to haze as fans pointed out that this was the third instance of a car lifting up and blowing over at high speed that year at Indy. Mario Andretti had suffered a vicious testing crash at Indianapolis in which he blew over into the fence, and Dan Wheldon blew over during the 500 that year. Andretti survived with minor injuries, and Wheldon was unhurt. Videos of both crashes are available online. Additionally, on October 5th at the Texas Motor Speedway, Kenny Bräck survived a crash so violent that it registered 214Gs, which is still the highest known amount of Gs a human has survived without either dying or permanently falling into a coma.
While a few aftermath photos were made public, no footage of the Renna crash itself has ever been released, a good move considering both the poor publicity and the awful nature of the crash. If this had happened during the leadup to or in the 500, it likely would have killed a few spectators and destroyed the IRL.
2004: The Fatal Fall Of Jason Ciarletta
AMA Supercross is an extremely popular dirt bike racing series in the United States. It mostly runs inside stadiums, though it does have a race on a temporary circuit set up in the trioval grass of the Daytona Int’l Speedway.
During a heat race for the AMA Supercross 125cc Class feature at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego in January 2004, a massive gaggle of riders funneled their way through the layout on the first lap and began to run out of room, forcing several riders wide. One rider, Jason Ciarletta, struck a lip, went over the handlebars, and hit his head on an embankment. He died shortly thereafter despite wearing a full-face helmet.
The TV crew was still setting up during the 125cc heats, and hence his crash was not filmed by them. However, I’m forced to believe that someone in the audience of 2,000 (remember, it was just a heat, and for the most junior of the classes no less, so the audience was a bit small) filmed the crash on a camcorder or cell phone due to one factor: this was an AMA Supercross race. Motorsports had found a resurgence in the early 2000s, and Supercross is often seen as one of the most spectacular types of motorsport. It’s assumed that those who filmed it turned their footage over to the AMA for their investigation.
Jason Ciarletta was nineteen when he died. He is still the only rider in AMA Supercross to have died in a race since the series began in 1973.
2004: The Death Of Roy Weaver
The Goody’s Dash Series found new life as the iPower Dash Series in 2004, and planned a schedule of short tracks and speedways, with the traditional one superspeedway race at Daytona. On lap 9 of the Daytona race, Billy Clevenger spun in turn four and was slammed by Tony Billings, severely injuring Billings, who would be in the hospital for a bit over a week.
On lap 19, the race was still under caution for whatever reason. Roy Weaver III, a track worker, spotted some debris and asked his companions on the truck to park it to the low side. This was a violation, as the track workers’ trucks are supposed to be on the high side as a reference, not the low side where they can’t be seen. Roy also failed to radio in to officials that he had found debris, in which case they would have told the teams and drivers would have been on the lookout.
During the caution, Ray Paprota, the nation’s first known paraplegic to race in a national stock car tour, pulled out of the garage. He’d failed to start due to a faulty battery, but since the race wasn’t red flagged, the crew could work on the car. Eventually, they changed the battery and he pulled out. Ray did one wave-around lap and got ready to join up with the field on the backstretch when, in turn two, he came across Roy.
The ensuing collision instantly killed Roy Weaver. Ray, shaken but still hoping he’d missed Roy, drove back to the pits, and the rest of the field soon followed.
The race was eventually resumed, with Danny Bagwell taking the win. Footage of the collision way caught by CCTV cameras and a mounted wall camera in turn two, but Daytona turned the footage over to the police for their investigation, possibly wishing to prevent the heavy criticism they received after Dale Earnhardt’s death, where the footage went to the media first. Police eventually placed full blame on the track crew.
The iPower Dash Series was done in by the story’s sensationalism (Ray, who later returned to legend cars and has since retired, was blameless, but when the media heard that Ray was a paraplegic, they went wild), and was handed off to the ASA, who let the series waste away before putting it out of its misery in 2011.
2008: The Massive Crash Of Jeff Gordon (INSIDE)
During the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas in 2008, Jeff Gordon crashed into an entrance gate while trying to avoid a spinning Matt Kenseth. It was the hardest hit of his career, but due to NASCAR’s many safety upgrades across the years, Gordon was able to walk away.
In the accident, Gordon had three onboard cameras, one on the car’s front, one on the car’s rear, and one inside the car facing towards Gordon. The broadcast crew showed the impact from several external angles and from the car’s front and rear, but never showed the impact from inside. They did show the aftermath from inside the car, as Gordon collected his thoughts and unbuckled, but not the impact itself, apparently because Gordon’s body moved in a way during the crash that the crew found disturbing.
A few days later, Jeff asked to see the recording of the crash from inside the car. That was the last mention ever made of the tape.
2011: The Fatal Crash Of Dan Wheldon (ONBOARD)
Dan Wheldon himself died in a somewhat similar accident to Tony Renna in 2011 at the IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Dan actually had the onboard camera that day, which ABC switched away from when Wade Cunningham and J.R. Hildebrand made contact to start the tragic mayhem.
Dan attempted to navigate the 15-car pileup, but was unable to. He struck Ernesto Viso’s car and flew into the catchfence. Dan struck his head on a catchfence support beam, killing him. The red flag was waved, but two hours into cleanup, officials confirmed that the 2005 IndyCar champion and two time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was gone. The race was cancelled after the crash. ABC proceeded to show the crash one more time, the announcers lamenting that not everyone had walked away, and the tribute began.
The drivers whose cars would still run proceeded to run five slow laps in memory of their fallen friend. The announcers stayed quiet, and the track PA system (the spectators at the circuit had been told as well) played Amazing Grace. In the meantime, 12 of the 15 drivers involved and all the crew members and officials stood in the pit lane, respectfully silent. Will Power and Pippa Mann were still in the infirmary during the tribute laps. Mann was not badly injured, but Power had suffered several fractures. After the five laps, the broadcast team signed off.
The full onboard footage is known to exist. In fact, some fans actually viewed it as it happened, as an onboard livestream was being shown on Indycar Mobile for Verizon subscribers only. It hasn’t been shown since, and has never been leaked. A Canadian group requested to use some of the withheld footage for a documentary on the leadup to the IndyCar World Championships and the death of Dan Wheldon, and was granted permission. During the broadcast, the onboard had ended when the accident had begun. The documentary shows up to the impact with Viso, at which point it freezes.
2012: The Fatal Crash Of Gareth Roberts (ONBOARD)
Craig Breen is an Irish rallyman in the WRC. He`s a fan favorite, most fans liking him due to how he`s persevered through the circumstances. In 2012, then-21 year old Breen was running the Intercontinental Rally Challenge`s Italian round, the Targa Florio, when his car went off and into the guardrail. The guardrail was not properly bolted down, and it pierced the car a la Robert Kubica. Unfortunately, Craig Breen`s co driver, 24 year old Gareth Roberts, was not as fortunate as Kubica, and he was killed. Breen was severely traumatized by the accident, and had to be treated for shock. Physically, Breen was not injured. Breen has kept going in Gareth`s memory, and has dedicated all of his subsequent successes to Gareth.
Quite terrifyingly, there was actually an onboard camera mounted INSIDE the Peugeot. The tape`s whereabouts are completely unknown, and very little has been released. The short snippet that has been shown was filmed several minutes after the crash. The car was unoccupied by this point, and any blood had been sampled and cleaned or was out of view, however the car had not yet been removed from the site of the crash.
2013: The Fatal Crash Of Jason Leffler
In 2013, popular NASCAR driver Jason Leffler, who had given Toyota its first NASCAR victory when he won an Xfinity race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007, was running a sprint car race at the Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey when he struck the turn four wall very hard. The red flag was waved, and the field stopped immediately, as New Jersey rules require drivers to stop where they are when a red flag flies, even if the position they stop in is inconvenient. Leffler was wearing a restraint to help protect him from being injured by frontal impacts, but did not have one to assist with side-on impacts. This crash was the latter. Medics rushed Leffler to the hospital, but he was beyond saving. Racing was called off for the rest of the weekend.
No footage is available of the impact itself. One spectator’s video ends a lap before the impact, and several aftermath shots are available. It appears that everyone who recorded the footage chose to either give it to the authorities or withhold it.
New Jersey now requires full restraints for all racing in the state.
2014: The Horrid Crash Of Marcus Mahy
At the 2014 24h Of Spa Francorchamps, gentleman driver Marcus Mahy, one of the very few racers to come out of the Channel Islands (Guernsey, to be precise), spun his #111 Ferrari around on the approach to Paul Frere, which is the kink just before Blanchimont. Mahy could not get the car restarted, and decided to start unbuckling for whatever reason. All of a sudden, another Ferrari, the #333 of the incredibly talentless Russian businessman Vadim Kogay, rounded the bend and hit him in the driver’s door.
No footage has ever been released besides some aftermath footage that was shown during the event. It’s unknown why Mahy decided to get out of the Ferrari, though it seems he found the fact that he was sitting in the runoff to be enough. After all, who would be dumb enough to run off the course off of Stavelot?
Well…Vadim Kogay. It’s extremely well documented that Kogay was only racing because he has a lot of money. He was a severe embarassment at Monza earlier in the year when he ran off literally dozens of times (I believe seven or eight instances were caught on camera), and he was an embarassment at Spa.
Incredibly, Marcus Mahy survived the crash. He decided it was time to retire afterwards. Not much has been seen of Kogay since. He did run in a French GT race towards the end of 2015, but that’s all I could find of him after this.