From NASCAR Typical to NASCAR Tragedy

 by Karen Courcy
February 28, 2001

Go to our forums to discuss this article

Daytona 500 program
(courtesy of Pete McCole)

Sometimes you just have to wonder why things happen the way they do. I imagine not only the Dale Earnhardt fans, but all fans of motorsports are thinking just that. Looking back at Daytona, many people ask why is it that in such a tremendous crash; like that which Tony Stewart was involved in, he walked away with little to no injuries. Yet what seemed like a normal every day accident in NASCAR racing ended in tragedy for Dale Earnhardt. What was the difference? And why did this happen?

175 laps into the race coming out of turn 2, Robby Gordon tapped Ward Burton's Dodge, which turned Burton's car into Stewart's car. Stewart's car smashed into the backstretch wall, lifting his car up 20 feet into the air and landing upside down on top of Robby Gordon's car. It then proceeded to go into several barrel rolls down the backstretch, landing on and beside his teammate Bobby Labonte, where he was knocked unconscious for a few minutes. Looking at this horrific accident, you would think there would be no chance for survival, but this is where the law of physics comes in and saved Tony Stewart's life.

One lap to go and Earnhardt did everything he could to hold back the pack, letting Dale Jr and Michael Waltrip race it to the end. All the while, he was fending off Ken Schrader and Sterling Marlin. Somewhere in a fraction of a second there was a bump, then the air got taken off of Earnhardt's car and he got loose, sending him almost straight into the wall doing 190mph. But at that speed the rules of physics didn't work in Earnhardt's favor. He was lifted from his car and was brought to Halifax Hospital where he was pronounced dead later that evening, witnessed by millions as Mike Helton informed the masses. And what seemed to be a typical NASCAR crash turned into tragedy in just that fraction of a second. 

Daytona 500 ticket
(courtesy of Pete McCole)

Where do the rules of physics come into play with both tragic accidents? Tony Stewart's car was slightly lifted before hitting the wall straight on. Since his car was lifted up off the ground, it broke that barrier of a head on hit at 190mph. With his car tossing and turning into the air, and tumbling over and over, all that energy from the impact of hitting the wall was let go by him being dragged down the back stretch till he came to a stop. With Dale Earnhardt he went from about 55 mph to a nearly a complete stop hitting the wall. His car stopped within fraction of a second, and so too was his life.

Many will debate the fact on whether or not the HANS device would have saved Dale Earnhardt in this tragic accident, but no one knows, not now, not ever. We can only hope that with this loss of a legend the drivers will take more responsibility for their own safety, and in effect use the HANS and other possible life saving devices.

Somebody asked me how will the drivers go back out on the track and race after what has happened? My answer, "Live or die, it's all in the love and passion for the sport they can't live without".

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article


Others Articles

We will miss him
Lin Loflin 02/27/01

NASCAR needs the Rock
Frank Ryan

Senna and Earnhardt - Rest in peace

Is Your Plate Full?  Adam Sewell 02/12/01

The Greatness of NASCAR Tim Barrett 02/03/01

Rookies Rule NASCAR Frank Ryan 02/02/01

Racing Withdrawal - Diary of a NASCAR Junkie Doug Belliveau 01/23/01

NASCAR Racing and Religion Adam Sewell 01/18/01

Pennzoil Motorsports Show a Big Success Frank Ryan & Doug Belliveau 01/17/01

NASCAR - A sport for the humble Doug Belliveau 01/12/01

2000 Driver Report Cards - Part 4 Doug Belliveau 01/13/01

2000 Driver Report Cards - Part 3 Doug Belliveau 12/21/00

2000 Driver Report Cards - Part 2 Doug Belliveau 12/12/00

2000 Driver Report Cards - Part 1 Doug Belliveau 12/05/00

HANS Device - Part 4 Frank Ryan 12/07/00

HANS Device - Part 3 Frank Ryan 12/01/00

HANS Device - Part 2 Frank Ryan 11/07/00

HANS Device - Part 1 Frank Ryan 10/31/00

Nadeau Can Do by Frank Ryan 11/20/00

NAPA 500 Pre-race report by Frank Ryan 11/17/00

Burton Captures Phoenix
by Frank Ryan 11/5/00

Sophomore jinx for Stewart?  by Doug Belliveau 11/2/00

Speed  by John Clark 10/26/00

Grab the RUDDer Full Speed Ahead by Doug Belliveau 10/24/00

Pop Secret 400 Dale Jarrett finally breaks "The Rock" by Frank Ryan 10/22/00

Talladega 500 Earnhardt wins and that's no bull by Jon Osborne 10/15/00

Hanging out in the infield at the UAW-GM Quality 500 by Lin Loflin 10/10/00

Labonte one-step closer wins UAW-GM Quality 500 by Jon Osborne 10/8/00

The NASCAR Shark Tank by Doug Belliveau 10/5/00

Bill Elliott's crew behind win by Lin Loflin 10/3/00

Kneed for Speed  by Doug Belliveau and Jim Yeager 9/27/00

Short Day for Long  by Doug Belliveau and Frank Ryan 9/26/00

Got Laps?  by Doug Belliveau 9/26/00

Mayfield Claims Pole  by Frank Ryan 9/22/00

NASCAR Racing Cakes The sweet smell of success by Lin Miller 9/21/00

We drive Winston Cup cars with Skip Barber by Mike Marue 9/20/00

Restrictor Plates Are they required for the Monster Mile? by Frank Ryan 9/19/00

Testing Is NASCAR testing itself to death by Frank Ryan 9/19/00

The Penalty Box by Doug Belliveau 9/14/00

Monte Carlo 400 Richmond - Saturday Night Special Frank Ryan 9/10/00

Southern 500 - The battery bunch tames the lady by Jon Osborne 9/3/00

Bristol - Wallace brings a broom to Bristol by Jon Osborne 8/26/00

Bristol - Go chasing, Rusty wins Bristol by Frank Ryan 8/26/00

Camping at The Glen - A weekend of camping at The Glen by Doug Belliveau 8/21/00

Rain Tires - Will Goodyear's Eagles fly n the rain by Frank Ryan 8/17/00

Watkins Glen - Park the car in Victory Lane by Frank Ryan 8/13/00

Brickyard 400 - Labonte's win solid as brick by Frank Ryan 8/5/00

Pennsylvania 500 Race report by Frank Ryan 7/23/00

Pennsylvania 500 Pre-race report 
by Frank Ryan 7/20/00

Name that NASCAR sponsor by Doug Belliveau 7/13/00

ThatLook.com 300 - Rain sweetened victory for Tony Stewart
by Frank Ryan 7/9/00

Pepsi 400 - Jeff Burton leads Ford sweep
by David Cipolloni 7/1/00

Rainbow Warrior wins this battle by Doug Belliveau 6/29/00

Sears Point by Frank Ryan 6/26/00

Mid-Season review by Mark Baudermann 6/23/00

Aged to perfection by Doug Belliveau 6/21/00

Michigan Kmart 400 - Stewart is the Rain Man by Frank Ryan 6/11/00

The Farewell Tour  by Doug Belliveau 6/7/00

Dover MBNA 400 - Tony Stewart dominates The Monster Mile
by David Cipolloni & Frank Ryan 6/4/00

World 600 - Rain doesn't delay Matt Kenseth's Reign
by Frank Ryan 6/1/00

Memories of Speedweek at Charlotte By Mark Baudermann 5/26/00

Don't order the crown.  Yet!  by Doug Belliveau 5/24/00

Nothing lasts forever by Frank Ryan 5/23/00

Visit the Nascartop50

Our ranking out of 750 NASCAR websites since joining on 7/3/00

Convert this page to
another language

e-mail us:

Back to the top

AutoRacing1 is an independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by CART Inc., NASCAR, FIA,  FedEx, Winston, or any other series sponsor. This material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed without permission.
User agreement & disclaimer

Copyright 1999 - 2001, AutoRacing1, Inc., Hamilton, NJ