Race Weekend Central

The Frontstretch 5: Frightening NASCAR Crashes Where the Driver Walked Away

Whether or not you watched the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, you probably still managed to see the video of Scott Dixon’s horrific wreck. It was one of the most violent wrecks in years, yet the spectacular part is that Dixon walked away unscathed. In fact, he acted like it was just a mundane part of his life, which speaks volumes to the kinds of people these drivers are, as well as how far the safety has come.

NASCAR has seen its share of horrific crashes as well. While there are many examples where the competitors have not fared as well, and the sport certainly has seen its share of tragedy, sometimes the safety measures (and fate) work perfectly so that the drivers can walk away without a serious injury.

1. Michael Waltrip, Bristol Motor Speedway, 1990

Before the days of the SAFER barrier, Bristol Motor Speedway’s crossover gate caused a slight protrusion of the concrete wall into the track coming out of Turn 2. For years, it was never an issue. That is until 1990, when Michael Waltrip found it during an XFINITY Series race. The result was a car that was essentially sawed in half, yet Waltrip managed to climb from the deformed car without injury.

2. Mike Harmon, Bristol Motor Speedway, 2002

Fast forward 12 years later and Bristol still has the same problem. This time, Mike Harmon finds the dangerous spot. Harmon’s car is shredded like Waltrip’s, but to put the icing on the cake, he connects with an oncoming Johnny Sauter.

While Harmon did walk away, he didn’t actually have to climb out of the car. All he had to do was stand up.

3. Austin Dillon, Daytona International Speedway, 2015

Austin Dillon is on top of the world this week after winning the Coca-Cola 600, but this particular night was not so great for the Coke driver during the 2015 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Kevin Harvick was bump drafting with Denny Hamlin into the trioval, after the race practically over, and the result is The Big One. Dillon’s car somersaults into the catchfence and both are destroyed.

To make matters worse, Brad Keselowski approaches the wreck a few seconds later, slides on oil and spins right into what used to be the No. 3 Chevrolet, which is almost exactly what happened to Keselowski when he ran into the back of Chase Elliott this past weekend. It was a grim sight for all to see the No. 3 crashing at Daytona, especially for race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. Fortunately, Dillon got out like it was nothing.

4. Michael McDowell, Texas Motor Speedway, 2008

When Dale Jarrett retired after running the first five races of the 2008 season, Michael McDowell stepped in to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing. The result was an instant impact… with the wall. In the rookie’s second week in the car, he goes for a wild ride after getting loose during a qualifying lap.

The most peculiar thing about the wreck was when he radioed to his crew that the car is way too tight, but yet he gets loose a second later. McDowell hit the wall at approximately 186 miles per hour. The fact that he was OK is a true testament to the safety of the HANS device.

5. Bobby Allison, Talladega Superspeedway, 1987

This list would not be complete without Talladega Superspeedway, the site to some of the worst wrecks in NASCAR history. In the days prior to restrictor plates, speeds at the track eclipsed 215 mph. This ended when Bobby Allison blew a tire in 1987 and his car went airborne right into the catchfence, which were not nearly as resistant at that time as they are now.

The car and catchfence shattered, and people in the crowd were injured, but the wreck was not nearly as bad as it would have been had the car gone into the crowd. Allison was okay and, as a result of the one of the highest speed crashes in NASCAR history, restrictor plates were implemented for future Talladega and Daytona races.

About the author

Michael.massie 113x150

Michael Massie joined Frontstretch in 2017 and has served as the Content Director since 2020. Massie, a Richmond, Va., native, has covered NASCAR, IndyCar, SRX and the CARS Tour. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad and Green Bay Packers minority owner can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies and Packers.

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