NASCAR in the late 90s and early 2000s was defined by three words: ‘basilar skull fracture’. Between April 2000 and March 2001, five drivers, rising star Adam Petty, young talent Kenny Irwin, Jr., veteran racer Tony Roper, racing legend Dale Earnhardt, and motorsports newcomer Michael Roberts all died due to basilar skull fractures.
However, the basilar skull fracture, which is a rare injury outside of motorsports, is not a death sentence. It’s usually fatal, but not always. It’s possible to survive one, as has happened three times in NASCAR. Rick Carelli in 1999 and Stanley Smith in 1993 are the more well known cases, but there has actually been one more: Larry Pollard.
Larry, a native of British Columbia, had several connections to the NASCAR circuit. He was Richard Petty’s crew chief for a time, led the late Roy Smith to two Winston West championships during the early 1980s, and was married to Harry Gant’s daughter. He began racing on the Busch Grand National Series circuit in 1985 and soon found himself running up front running for Hubert Hensley, Jimmy’s father. Larry was an unlucky driver, as he frequently ran up front only to blow up towards the end. When Pollard did finish, he usually did very well.
On August 9th, 1987, Larry surprised everyone with a victory at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia. He took the lead a bit past the 3/4ths mark when Larry Pearson, who had dominated the race up until that point, faltered, and held off Robert Ingram to take the win. Interestingly, the other race at Hampton that year saw another surprise win in short track expert Mike Alexander, and in a bizarre coincidence, Larry’s home province had, until the mid-80s, a short track named Langley Speedway.
During the 1988 Coke 600, Harry Gant blew a tire and went straight on into the barrier. Gant broke his leg and was forced to sit out the next few races. Gant tapped his son-in-law to take over his #7 car in the Busch Series until he recovered. Larry ran up front during his first race in the car, the Budweiser 200 at Dover Downs, but he would never finish it.
Pollard started the June 4th race in the upper midfield and worked his way up into the top ten across the course of the race. While he was on his 194th lap, Larry’s car went straight on into turn three and struck the wall with incredible force. It slid back down the track, almost striking the car of Joe Bessey, and came to a halt at the inside of the corner. The caution flag was flown while medics tended to Pollard, and current leader Brad Teague was told to slow down by NASCAR, possibly due to the crash’s seriousness. Bobby Hillin zoomed by Teague while racing back to the line, but since Teague had been told to slow, Hillin was ordered to give the spot back and order to the pit lane. Realizing their error, officials decided to reverse their decision a few laps later. It didn’t matter anyway, as Teague ran out of fuel under caution and had to pit, but Hillin took the checkered in one of the more confusing finishes in NASCAR’s history.
It took 15 minutes to extricate Pollard from the car, but he was eventually removed and rushed directly to the hospital via ambulance. He was placed in the ICU, but surprisingly was awake, alert, and semi-responsive. The basilar skull fracture was a known injury in 1988, and within a few days Pollard was diagnosed as having suffered one. Doctors weren’t sure if he would recover, but after two days he was placed in serious but stable condition.
Not much is known about his recovery, but Pollard healed on his own and was eventually discharged from the hospital. Pollard returned to the Busch Grand National Series the next year and ran six more races in the series before heading elsewhere.
Larry, 63 as of June 2017, moved to North Carolina sometime before 2001. He currently races super late models now and again at the Concord Speedway. Larry also manages a go kart track, known as Pollard Raceway Park, in Taylorsville with his son Chase. His career not yet over, Larry is simply a man who loves to race, no matter the level of competition.
“Hillin cautiously wins the Bud 200”, June 5, 1988 edition of The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware)
“Tire switch helps Elliott to victory”, June 6, 1988 edition of The Chicago Tribune
“Larry Pollard 98”, circa 2001 article from Luvracin.com
A brief conversation with Chase Pollard
The bit about Pollard being awake and alert seems unbelievable, so I will give you its source right here: The 6/6/88 of The Chicago Tribune, which I listed above