How Many NASCAR Drivers Have Died Racing?


How Many NASCAR Drivers Have Died Racing?

All motor racing and motorsport is dangerous, pushing machines to the limit on enclosed dangerous tracks will sometimes result in accidents. Sometimes these accidents can become deadly. Although safely has improved massively over the years across all motor sports there are still times when crashes have fatalities. Nascar has had drivers die doing the sport they love, we look at these unfortunate drivers and the crashes or events that caused it below.

There have been 28 NASCAR Cup Series driver fatalities since Larry Mann in 1952. Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 in 2001 was the most recent. Across other NASCAR series there has been an additional 54 driving related deaths. Safety improvements are mitigating although not eliminating risk to drivers.

These 28 NaSCAR Cup fatalities have occured over 70 years (this year), but if you include the 54 additional deaths this does amount to more than one fatality a year. We explore these in more detail and take a look at how dangerous NASCAR is compared to other motorsports.

Timeline of NASCAR Cup Deaths.

Below details the fatalities in Race, Qualifying or testing of NASCAR Cup series events. There ahve been 28 in total driver deaths.

NASCAR DriverDate of inccidentRacetrack
Larry MannSeptember 14, 1952Langhorne Speedway
Frank ArfordJune 20, 1953Langhorne Speedway
Lou FigaroOctober 24, 1954North Wilkesboro Speedway
John McVittyApril 21, 1956Langhorne Speedway
Clint McHughJune 9, 1956Memphis-Arkansas Speedway
Cotton PriddyJune 10, 1956Memphis-Arkansas Speedway
Bobby MyersSeptember 2, 1957Darlington International Raceway
Joe WeatherlyJanuary 19, 1964Riverside International Raceway
Fireball RobertsMay 24, 1964Charlotte Motor Speedway
Jimmy PardueSeptember 22, 1964Charlotte Motor Speedway
Billy WadeJanuary 5, 1965Daytona International Speedway
Buren Skeen]September 6, 1965Darlington International Raceway
Harold KiteOctober 17, 1965Charlotte Motor Speedway
Billy FosterJanuary 20, 1967Riverside International Raceway
Talmadge PrinceFebruary 19, 1970Daytona International Speedway
Friday HasslerFebruary 17, 1972Daytona International Speedway
Larry SmithAugust 12, 1973Alabama International Motor Speedway
Tiny LundAugust 17, 1975Alabama International Motor Speedway
Ricky KnottsFebruary 14, 1980Daytona International Speedway
Bruce JacobiFebruary 17, 1983Daytona International Speedway
Terry SchoonoverNovember 11, 1984Atlanta International Raceway
 Rick BaldwinJune 14, 1986Michigan International Speedway
Grant AdcoxNovember 19, 1989Atlanta International Raceway
 J. D. McDuffieAugust 11, 1991Watkins Glen International
Neil BonnettFebruary 11, 1994Daytona International Speedway
Rodney OrrFebruary 14th, 1994Daytona International Speedway
Kenny Irwin Jr.July 7, 2000New Hampshire International Speedway
Dale EarnhardtFebruary 18, 2001Daytona International Speedway
How Many NASCAR Drivers Have Died Racing?

When Was The First NASCAR Death?

Larry Mann is the first recorded NASCAR Race DeathOpens in a new tab. on 14th September 1952, he was just 22 years old. At the time the series was named the Grand National Division. He was on the 211st lap at Langhome Speedway, crashing through a fence and flipping, three times according to press reports, his hudson hornet into some trees. He died from massive head injuries and pulmonary hemorrhage.

He was racing a green car at the time. ( a little background to that superstition hereOpens in a new tab.)

Langhome also saw the second recorded deathOpens in a new tab. in NASCAR racing when Frank Arford rolled his car 6 times and crashed through the barrier on the 20th June 1953. He died of head injuries, broken ribs and a broken leg.

When Was The Last NASCAR Death?

Fortunately for the last 20 years there have been no fatalities during testing, qualifying or racing in NASCAROpens in a new tab.. The last fatality was perhaps the most shocking of NASCARs history when Dale Earnhardt, one of the most famous NASCAR driver of all time, crashed into the retaining wall of the Daytona Speedway Opens in a new tab.on February the 18th 2001.

It occured on the final turn of the final lap of the Daytona 500 in a crash involving Dale Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin and Ken Schrader. While the crash killed Dale EarnhardtOpens in a new tab. the other two drivers were physically unharmed.

What Is The Most Deadly NASCAR Track?

The Daytona International Speedway is the most deadly NASCAR TrackOpens in a new tab.. There have been 7 fatalities there since Billy Wade in 1965. The last fatality at Daytona was Dale Earnhardt, and that has been the last fatality Opens in a new tab.in NASCAR to date as well. Charlotte Motor Speedway and Langhome Speedway are 2nd and 3rd most deadly NASCAR Tracks with 3 fatalities each.

Which Is The Most Dangerous Motorsport?

This is Tough to answer. My first thought when researching this was ”it has to be motorbike racing, MOTO TT or similar. however the answer is not as straightforward as that. Safety improvements across all sports have made them increasingly safer.

However as we mention below in terms of sheer numbers of fatalities, then road racing on motorbikes seems to take top spot. The Isle of Man TT ( tourist trophy) has claimed 260 drivers lives to date. Unlike racetracks, road races can build in safety features.

The question definitely warrants more research, and we will have a “Which is more dangerous car or Motorbike Racing” article on the site soon! Stay tuned!

What Is The Most Dangerous Motor Race in The World?

There is one race that has claimed more driversOpens in a new tab. lives than any other. Unsurprisingly it involves motorbikes. The isle of Man TT race held in My and June each year. ( May 28th to June 11th in 2022). Since 1907 until 2019 the race has claimed 260 lives. No other race comes close to this.

An average speed of over 130 miles per hour and a top speed of over 205 miles per hour on this six lap, 37.75 mile long course with over 264 corners a lap ( which each mistake in a corner likely to end up colliding with a wall, a house, a post or a pole, goes some way to explain how it has become the most dangerous race in the world.

Which Are The Most Dangerous Racetracks In The World?

As we mentioned above the Isle of Man TT track, called the Snaefell Mountain Course is the most dangerous, and by a long way. However below we have information on the the other racetracks that are plenty dangerous and unforgiving as well:

Racetrack / RaceLocationNumber of Fatalities.
Snaefell Mountain CourseIsle of Man260
NurburgringGermany78
Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayUSA56
Spa FrancorchampsBelgium48
Autodromo Nazionale MonzaItaly52
Daytona SpeedwayUSA28
Dakar Rally (ok not a racetrack)Paris, Sudan, South America, Saudi Arabia49
Le Mans – Cicuit de la SartheFrance22

These are driver fatality figures, however it is remiss not to mention the worst crash in history which we explain more about below.

What is The Most Deadly Motor Racing Crash

Although this article is focussed on NASCAR, and the fatalities within the sport. As we have mentioned how NASCAR compares to other sports in terms of both safety and fatalities we feel a little explanation into not just the risk to drivers but also the risk to spectators should be highlighted.

The worst crash, and still the worst 60 years on, in any motorsport occurred during a Le Mans 24 raceOpens in a new tab. on June the 11th, 1955. Eighty– Three Spectators and the Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh died. There were over 120 others injured.

It was truly horrific, and even to this day the blame of the crash is disputed. However the results are not, after a collision between levegh and Macklin resulted in the Mercedes of Levegh flying into the crowd at 120 miles an hour and sending debris 300 feet into the packed spectators. With the engine block, suspension and bonnet coming to rest 100 metres away.

It caused a major shake up of safety measures, especially of spectators, across all motor sports worldwide.

Why Have There Been No NASCAR Deaths Since 2001?

There has not been a fatal NASCAR crash, in the cup series at least, since 2001. Nascar has Hundreds of safety features, regulations, and equipment. We look at the key ones here: They have all played a role in keeping NASCAR fatality free for 20 years.

  • Window Nets: These are designed to protect the drivers arms and limbs from leaving the car during a crash, and to keep flying debris on the outside as well.
  • Roll Cages: These are reinforced tube of steel that form a cage around the driver and centre of the car. they are designed to absorb impact and protect the driver.
  • HANS Device: The HANS device is designed to reduce the head shipping effects of a crash. The seatbelts help decelerate the body, but prior to the HANS device the head was stopped whipping forward by the neck. With some fatal consequences. With this device this effect is mitigated along with excessive head rotation.
  • Roof Flaps: Are designed to help prevent NASCAR’s from flipping in the event of crash
  • Spotters: NASCAR’s don’t have wing mirrors, although they do have rear view mirrors in the car. To help, especially on road courses, NASCAR has spotters to relay information to crews and drivers. They are usually positioned high so they can see the whole track.
  • Driving Suits: NASCAR Driving suits are fire retardant and drivers wear fire retardant underwear, gloves and shoes as well.
  • Seats: Seats now wrap around drivers shoulder and rib cage to help spread the force of crash impacts. they are also made of carbon fibre for the same reasons.
  • Wall Barriers: Following Dale EarnHArdt’s fatal crash in 2001 new wall barriers were designed to reduce the effects of impacts. These were called Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers.

Final Thoughts:

Thankfully there have been no race deaths for over 20 years in NASCAR, although other motorsports have not fared so well. Luckily advances in equipment, materials and regulations have made NASCAR and motor racing as a whole increasingly safer over the years.

However, it is important to remember that year on year cars get faster just as safety gets better and NASCAR is still one of the words most dangerous sports. The best anyone can do is minimize the risk, but that element of risk will always be there when driving NASCAR’s at the very limits of what the cars, the crews, and the drivers can achieve.

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