Danger is always present for drivers
By Gaylen Duskey, Special to Turner Sports Interactive
August 20, 2001
2:52 PM EDT (1852 GMT)
When Dale Earnhardt was killed during the Daytona 500 a few months ago, it turned the racing world on its ear.
There have been plenty of stories and theories about what happened and what caused Earnhardt's death on the last lap of the first race of the year. But that was due to the magnitude of Earnhardt, since he was probably the most well-known NASCAR driver ever to perish in an on-track accident.
It was an eye-opening event. People looked at the danger involved in barreling around a racetrack at 190 mph, inches away from the bumper of another racecar while being paintbrush close to the outer wall.
Racing, after the death of someone like Earnhardt, was looked at as very dangerous, which it is. Most of the time people take for granted how dangerous it is because there are actually not that many wrecks, and when they do occur, no matter how spectacular they are, they are rarely fatal.
There have been more than a few deaths during the history of Winston Cup racing. But when one considers the number of laps run on the number of tracks and the number of races finished, the number of fatalities then seems quite small.
While such racing legends as Earnhardt, Glen 'Fireball' Roberts, Joe Weatherly and Neil Bonnett have died on the track, other luminaries such as Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki and Curtis Turner were victims of air mishaps
Let's look at those that died too soon:
DAVEY ALLISON: Allison may have been one of the greatest drivers ever had he not tragically died in a helicopter accident at Talladega on July 13, 1993. He started but 191 races but won 19 while taking 14 poles.
Allison's brother, Clifford, was killed while practicing in his Busch car at Michigan a year earlier.
ALAN KULWICKI: Kulwicki had just won his first Winston Cup title -- a rarity as an independent -- and was en route to Bristol when the airplane he was riding in crashed on April 1, 1993. Kulwicki had 207 Winston Cup starts and finished with five victories and 24 poles.
CURTIS TURNER: Turner had been retired for a couple of years when the private plane he was flying crashed on Oct. 4, 1970. Turner built Charlotte Motor Speedway but was forced to give it up not long after it was completed. He was planning a return to racing in the National 500 in Charlotte when he and golf professional Clarence King died in a crash near Punxsutawney, Pa. Turner started 171 Winston Cup races and had 17 wins and 17 poles.
DALE EARNHARDT: Arguably the greatest driver ever, Earnhardt was running up toward the front of the Daytona 500 when he crashed on the last lap. It was a tragic end to a racing legend. In his career, he won seven Winston Cup championships while winning 76 of the 676 races he started. He also won 22 poles.
GLEN 'FIREBALL' ROBERTS: Probably the greatest NASCAR driver other than Earnhardt to tragically die in a racing accident. Roberts was seriously burned during a race at Charlotte and died a few weeks later on July 2, 1964. Roberts was one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever and could have been better, at least statistically, had he not died at 34. As it was, the hall of fame driver had 35 poles and 33 victories in a mere 206 starts.
DWAYNE 'TINY' LUND: Lund died in a crash at Talladega on Aug. 17, 1975. He was a 20-year veteran NASCAR driver and had won six poles and five races during his 303 career starts. Lund had earlier been a hero when he saved Marvin Panch from a burning car during a practice run for the 1963 Daytona 500.
NEIL BONNETT: One of the Alabama Gang, Bonnett was making a racing comeback when he was killed on Feb. 2, 1994, during a practice run for the Daytona 500. Bonnett took 20 poles and 18 victories during his 363-race Winston Cup career.
JOE WEATHERLY: Weatherly was a Hall of Fame driver and one of NASCAR's early stars. He had an outstanding career with 19 poles and 25 victories in his 230-race career while winning the Grand National (now Winston Cup) title in 1962 and 63. He was also an accomplished motorcycle racer, winning three American Motorcycle Associations championships before becoming a NASCAR driver. He died in a crash at Riverside on Jan. 19, 1964.
JIMMY PARDUE: Pardue won only two races and sat on only three poles during his 217-race career. He was one of several independent drivers looking for a team to hire him. It never happened. He was killed during tire testing at Charlotte on Sept. 22, 1964.
ALFRED 'SPEEDY' THOMPSON: Thompson lived up to his nickname by winning 18 poles and posting 20 wins in 198 career starts. Thompson had dropped out of racing but decided to return. On Easter Sunday, the day before his 46th birthday, he was scheduled to race at Metrolina Speedway in Charlotte.
He said he did not feel well but was unable to find anyone to drive for him. About halfway through the race his car went straight while the track turned and he smashed headlong into the wall.
He may have had a heart attack since some people at the track said he appeared to be slumped over the wheel when he hit the wall. Had he not had a heart attack, he would have died anyhow since he suffered a broken neck in the accident.
FRIDAY HASSLER: Hassler, who never won a Winston Cup race but did have a couple of poles in his 135-race career died in a 13-car pileup during one of the Twin 125 races at Daytona on Feb. 17, 1972. The pileup was caused when Dave Boggs suffered a flat tire.
J.D. MCDUFFIE: McDuffie may have been the consummate hardscrabble independent driver. He never had equipment or funding or frankly much of a chance, but he was always there. He made 653 Winston Cup starts and had one pole to show for it. He never won a race. McDuffie was killed on Aug. 11, 1991, at Watkins Glen.
GWYN STALEY: Staley won three Grand National races and three poles in his 69-race career, yet the Gwyn Staley Memorial at North Wilkesboro was named after him. He was killed in a convertible race at Richmond on March 23, 1958.
BILLY MYERS: Myers died during a race at Winston-Salem on April 12, 1958. His brother Bobby died on Sept. 2, 1957, in a wreck at the Southern 500 at Darlington.
The award for the greatest contribution to stock car racing is called the Myers Brothers Award and the National Motorsports Press Association presents it every year.
BRUCE JACOBI: Jacobi massive head injuries in trials at Daytona on Feb. 17, 1983 and remained comatose for nearly four years before dying. He had 20 Winston Cup starts but never won a race or a pole.
A chronological listing of many NASCAR drivers who were killed while racing:
2001: Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.
2000: Tony Roper at Texas Motor Speedway.
2000: Kenny Irwin, Jr. at Loudon, N.H.
2000: Adam Petty at Loudon, N.H.
1997: John Nemechek at Homestead, Fla.
1994: Neil Bonnett at Daytona.
1994: Rodney Orr at Daytona.
1993: Joe Booher at Daytona.
1992: Clifford Allison at Michigan Speedway.
1991: J.D. McDuffie at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
1989: Grant Adcox at Atlanta.
1986: John Anderson at Charlotte.
1984: Terry Schoonover at Atlanta.
1980: Ricky Knotts at Daytona.
1980: Tim Williamson at Riverside, Calif.
1970: Talmage Prince at Daytona.
1967: Billy Foster at Riverside, Calif.
1965: Harold Kite at Charlotte.
1965: Buren Skeen at Darlington.
1965: Billy Wade at Daytona.
1964: Jimmy Pardue at Charlotte.
1964: Fireball Roberts at Charlotte.
1964: Joe Weatherly at Riverside, Calif.
1964: Bobby Marshman at Phoenix.
1959: Marshall Teague at Daytona.
1958: Billy Myers at Winston-Salem, N.C.
1958: Gwyn Staley at Richmond.
1957: Bobby Myers at Darlington.
1956: Thomas 'Cotton' Priddy at LeHi, Ark.
1956: Clint McHugh at LeHi, Ark.
1956: John McVitty at Langhorne, Pa.
1954: Lou Figaro at North Wilksboro, N.C.
1954: Larry Mann at Langhorne, Pa.
1954: Wally Campbell at Salem, Ind.
1953: Jesse Midkiff at Raleigh, N.C.
1953: Bill Blevins at Raleigh, N.C.
1953; Frank Arford at Langhorne, Pa.
1952: Rex Stansell at Darlington.