When you’re racing cars at up to 200 mph, then accidents are going to happen. Although engineers try to make NASCAR as safe as possible, there is always the chance that a serious injury – even a fatality – could occur.
The premier NASCAR series has seen a total of 28 driver fatalities occur over its history. Dale Earnhardt was the last driver to be killed on the track when his vehicle wrecked in the 2001 edition of the Daytona 500.
Losing a life is always a tragedy. Some accidents put the lives of fans in danger too. These are the worst incidents that happened in NASCAR history.
#1. Pocono 2012
One of the most tragic fatalities in NASCAR history doesn’t involve vehicles at all. Several fans huddled underneath the tent to stay dry during the thunderstorm, but a bolt of lightning struck the structure. Nine spectators were injured in the aftermath, with one fatality occurring because of this natural disaster.
#2. New Hampshire 2000
Kenny Irwin, Jr. was rounding turn 3 during a practice run when his vehicle slammed hard head-on into the wall. The car flipped onto its side, sliding for a while before it landed on its roof. Irwin was killed instantly because of a basilar skull fracture.
#3. Daytona 1994
The practice runs during this race claimed two lives: Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr. The first was a legendary driver, while the latter was making his Cup debut. Each occurred during separate practice incidents three days apart from each other. Rusty Wallace lectured the field, calling out drivers for being too aggressive on the track. Sterling Marlin would win the race, the first of his career.
#4. Watkins Glen 1991
J.D. McDuffie died of severe head injuries during the fifth lap of the Budweiser at The Glen. He collided with Jimmy Means at 170mph after suffering a mechanical issue with his vehicle. There was no way for him to steer, nor was there a gravel trap in the corner. He went across the grass, hitting the outside retaining wall so hard that the vehicle shot upward, then landed on its roof. The official cause of death was a basilar skull fracture. McDuffie collected 106 Top 10 finishes over an almost 30-year racing career, but he never got a win at the top level.
#5. Atlanta 1989
It was the season finale at the track. Grant Adcox crashed heavily into the wall on Lap 198 in a single-car accident. The impact had such strength that the racing seat tore away from its mount entirely, which caused massive chest and head injuries. An investigation afterward determined that the seat was improperly mounted. The incident led to new safety regulations for the 1990 season for the way seats were installed.
There have been several tragedies over the years which have claimed the life of drivers at all levels of racing. NASCAR has been lucky to avoid issues since Dale Earnhardt’s accident almost two decades ago. With a continued emphasis on safety, hopefully another tragedy does not occur.