Race Weekend Central

Only Yesterday: When Cars Become Toys

We’ve all seen it by now.

NASCAR nation collectively held its breath on Saturday, Aug. 29, after Ryan Preece endured perhaps one of the scariest crashes to occur since the 1990s at Daytona International Speedway. After a bad bump from Erik Jones sent Preece spinning into his teammate Chase Briscoe, Preece caught air going over the infield bus stop used during the Rolex 24 and proceeded to tumble more than 10 times down the backstretch.

The crash was quick. The impacts were violent. The car was destroyed.

But the driver was OK.

See also
Ryan Preece Released From Hospital After Daytona Crash

Preece climbed out of his car after a minute of sitting inside, then proceeded to place himself on a stretcher to be taken to the infield care center – and later the nearby Halifax Medical Center – for further evaluation.

While older NASCAR fans are more prepared for seeing an incident like this, younger NASCAR fans haven’t seen a flip that jaw-dropping … really, ever. The closest thing to it would be Chris Buescher barrel-rolling at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year. That was a slow-developing crash. Or perhaps Buescher’s previous barrel roll at Talladega Superspeedway in 2016.

Even Blaine Perkins‘ wicked crash at Talladega in the Xfinity Series earlier this season was gnarly in and of itself, but Preece’s accident was far wilder.

Perhaps the most spectacular airborne accident younger NASCAR fans have seen is Ryan Newman’s 2020 Daytona 500 flip, where he turned upside down after hitting the outside wall and then was hit in the driver’s side roof by an onrushing Corey Lajoie, causing Newman to suffer a head injury that kept him out of the car for three races.

Even the catchfence crashes of Kyle Larson in the Xfinity Series in 2013 and Austin Dillon in the Cup Series in 2015 were scary, as those crashes, both at Daytona, injured fans from flying debris.

But this? This was brutal, and that’s primarily because NASCAR fans today are (thankfully) sheltered by the drastic improvements in safety in comparison to the early 2000s and prior, where flips like this were commonplace.

Preece’s flip immediately draws similarity to Darrell Waltrip’s flip in 1992, where the circumstances were very similar – it was the summer race at Daytona. Waltrip was sent out of line on the backstretch and into the path of Joe Ruttman, who pushed Waltrip’s No. 17 into the grass, jumping over an access road. Waltrip’s car landed awkwardly in the grass and flipped wildly.

But Waltrip’s wreck isn’t the only one. In 1992, Davey Allison was turned by Waltrip into the Pocono Raceway grass between turns 2 and 3, sending Allison’s No. 28 into the air and into a series of frightening tumbles and pirouettes, again similar to Preece’s wild ride.

Then there’s Rusty Wallace’s pair of flips in 1993 at Daytona and Talladega, both times involving several trips through the air and flipping multiple times mid-air before ever touching the ground again.

Newman took a wild tumble in the 2003 Daytona 500, beginning a decade-and-a-half-long rivalry between Newman and airborne cars. Another driver snakebitten by flips was Elliott Sadler, who had a wild flip at Michigan International Speedway in 2000, then two at Talladega in 2003 and 2004.

In each and every instance you just read, these cars twisted and turned violently like a five-year-old throwing his Hot Wheels diecasts across the floor. The only difference is that a Hot Wheels car does not weigh over 3,000 pounds.

It’s so easy to look at an airborne accident and point out how easy the car lifted up and over. But when you stop to think about the car and the fact that it weighs 3,000 pounds, that’s when you realize just how spectacular an airborne crash can be.

Preece’s crash is a grim reminder of what NASCAR’s past used to look like. Sure, flips were about as common back then as they are today, but the violent nature of them is very rare nowadays. Before Perkins and Preece this year, barrel rolls were few and far between, whereas it was commonplace in the older days.

Preece’s crash also reminds us that each and every driver who has come and gone in NASCAR’s premier series are athletes. The risk of getting behind the wheel each week sometimes can get lost on us until we see a heart-stopping crash like we did at Daytona. These drivers are doing what you and I can only dream of.

Fortunately, safety in NASCAR has come a long way. The HANS device. SAFER barriers. Roof flaps. All of which have mitigated the scary, Hot-Wheels-type airborne accidents that were once the norm.

Preece gave an update to his fans on X (formerly Twitter) hours after the accident, which even further helped NASCAR nation to breathe a sigh of relief.

We often can take safety for granted nowadays in an era where safety is of utmost importance to NASCAR, which is why a heart-stopping accident like that is so rare. Preece’s accident, though freakish in nature, showed us that these accidents can still happen. And I’m sure the crash will be shown in highlight reels and promos for the next several years.

But as long as the driver can walk away, that’s all we should care about.

And, thankfully, he did.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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Every track with grass between the racing surface and pit line/inner walls needs to remove it and replace with artificial turf. It was the very slight surface grade change between asphalt and grass that launched Preece into the air.


Check out John Anderson flip:


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