NASCAR's most dangerous tracks
A scary accident on pit road during Sunday’s NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw Zach Price, the rear-tire changer on Ryan Blaney’s pit crew, suffer a significant leg injury that will force him to miss at least one race. It was a grim reminder of just how hazardous stock car racing can be, even at low speeds. That mishap got us thinking about the most dangerous tracks NASCAR has ever competed on. Here are the top five.
5. Darlington Raceway
NASCAR has held the Southern 500 at Darlington every year since 1950. In its earliest days, the egg-shaped South Carolina oval earned it’s nickname "The Track Too Tough to Tame." In fact, one NASCAR driver was killed in 1957 (Bobby Myers), and another in 1965 (Buren Skeen). Fortunately, there have been no fatalities at Darlington since, Cup Series or otherwise.
4. Langhorne Speedway
Three-time Indy champ Bobby Unser once said of the now-defunct Langhorne Speedway, "I raced all over the world, and that was the most dangerous, most treacherous, most murderous track there ever was. Nobody liked it, and the ones who said they did were lying."
Langhorne was built as an almost-perfect one-mile circle in Pennsylvania in 1926, ergo the nickname "The Big Left Turn." Turn 2 (the second quarter from the start/finish line) took on the nickname "Puke Hollow," after an incident in the track’s inaugural year in which driver Russ Snowberger vomited on the course. But "Puke Hollow" was also noted for it’s deeply-rutted surface, as the track was not paved evenly.
NASCAR tallied three of it’s first four deaths on this course (Larry Mann in a 1952 race, Frank Arford in 1953 while qualifying and John McVitty in 1956 while qualifying). The Cup Series stopped visiting the track after 1957.
Langhorne held its last race in 1971, and the track was soon razed to make way for a shopping center. In all, Langhorne claimed 27 lives in just 45 years of operation.
3. Riverside International Raceway
Riverside International Raceway opened for business in 1957, and in their first ever race, there was a fatality. It would be a harbinger of things to come.
The tricky road course became a fixture on the NASCAR circuit by 1960, but "specialists" won eight straight times until Richard Petty was able to claim a victory for the Cup Series regulars. Unfortunately, both 1962-1963 NASCAR champion Joe Weatherly (1964) and Billy Foster (1967) were killed in separate accidents in the interim. Safety improvements were attempted in 1969 to decrease pressure on brakes, but it made only a nominal difference.
By the time Riverside ceased operations in 1989 (sold to make way for a shopping center and suburban housing), the track had claimed 10 lives in all.
2. Talladega Superspeedway
NASCAR’s biggest course (2.66 miles) is also among its most dangerous.
Talladega took the lives of both Larry Smith (1973) and Tiny Lund (1975) in in-race accidents. A crash in 1987 saw Bobby Allison’s car go airborne and destroy a large portion of the track’s frontstretch catch fencing, which injured five spectators. Restrictor plates were mandated at the course after the incident, but it hasn’t stopped massive crashes from happening.
In 1996, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Bill Elliott suffered broken bones in a crash at Talladega. Pile-ups like this one remain a regular occurrence.
1. Daytona International Speedway
NASCAR’s most famous track has also proven to be it’s most lethal.
Daytona International Speedway has claimed the lives of seven NASCAR drivers since 1959 and was responsible for the most recent fatality in the sport when Dale Earnhardt Sr. lost his life in a last-lap crash in 2001.
Just last February, Ryan Newman survived this frightening incident at Daytona, proving that despite all the safety precautions NASCAR has taken over the years, stock car racing is still inherently dangerous.