Since its start in 1947, NASCAR (the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) has captured the attention and hearts of fans around the world. From the first NASCAR-sanctioned race in Daytona, Florida in 1948 to today, thousands of spectators have flocked to experience the atmosphere of a real NASCAR race in person. Sadly, several of these races have ended in tragedy due to high-speed car crashes and freak accidents. Here’s an overview of some of the worst fan injuries and deaths in NASCAR history.
Talladega, May 3, 1987
This infamous NASCAR catastrophe resulted in the mandatory use of restrictor plates from then on. Restrictor plates cap engine speeds from climbing too high, keeping all race cars at around the same speeds. In this incident, race car driver Bobby Allison’s vehicle encountered debris, causing the tire to burst. At the speed the car was traveling, the burst tire led to the vehicle becoming airborne and launching into the catch fence, the steel fence separating the crowd of spectators from the racetrack. The vehicle smashed a hole in the fence, and although it did not hit the stands, several fans suffered major injuries from shrapnel and debris. One woman nearly lost an eye from her injuries after this accident.
Daytona, February 18, 2000
After the Bobby Allison crash, NASCAR made restrictor plates mandatory for race cars – but not for trucks, which typically did not reach such high speeds. A notable exception was the accident in Daytona during the premiere of the NASCAR Truck Series. Driver Geoffrey Bodine flipped his racing truck, sending debris and flames into the grandstands. The debris ripped a section of the safety fence – tearing down about 50 feet of wire mesh – and badly injured five fans. Medical records indicate a broken arm, a head injury, and cuts and bruises. The truck burst into flames and the driver also sustained injuries.
Talladega, April 26, 2009
NASCAR driver Carl Edwards blamed his 2009 wreck on the restrictor plates NASCAR put in place for driver and spectator protection. In this accident, Edwards’ car crashed into a perimeter fence in his final lap, injuring seven fans. The vehicle hit the barrier at about 200 miles per hour, going airborne before hitting the fence. While no fan injuries were life threatening, two women did have to get airlifted to the hospital following the accident. In an interview with Edwards after the crash, he stated, “We’ll race like this until we kill somebody,” referring to the restrictor plates.
Pocono, August 5, 2012
One fan tragically died in this freak accident, which surprisingly did not involve a racing vehicle at all. Fans huddled under a tent in Pocono to stay out of the rain during this afternoon race. A bolt of lightning struck the tent, injuring nine spectators and killing one. There was no way for NASCAR to predict or prevent this type of natural disaster.
Daytona, July 6, 2015
The most recent incident involving NASCAR fan injury was the calamitous crash at the Daytona International Speedway. Just as Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line in the early morning hours of the race (rain delayed the race by five hours), a horrific accident was happening right behind him. Race car driver Denny Hamlin’s vehicle slid under Austin Dillon’s, propelling it into the catch fence and injuring five spectators. One went to the hospital while others turned down treatment. NASCAR is proud to have no recorded fan deaths related to race car crashes in its history.
When NASCAR patrons and innocent bystanders suffer major injuries during a race, they or their families may be able to sue NASCAR, the racetrack, and/or a third party. Standard sanctioning agreements require racetracks around the country to carry at least $50 million in liability insurance for just such purposes. If you’ve been injured at a racing event or one of the local speedways near Bakersfield, learn your rights and contact a personal injury lawyer in Bakersfield today.