February 08, 2011

Drivers Remember Earnhardt's Death: The upcoming 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death has prompted the Nascar drivers involved to discuss the fatal accident on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Ken Schrader, the first to reach Earnhardt's car, recently revealed for the first time that he knew right away there was no chance of recovery. "I knew he was dead," he said. "I didn't want to be the one who said, 'Dale is dead.' ... I couldn't say it." Last lap and post-race coverage.

posted by rcade to auto racing at 10:17 AM - 9 comments

Still remember this vividly. Was so strange as it was one of the least fatal looking crashes I've ever seen. As a racing fan I've, sadly, seen many fatal crashes. (Though mercifully not as many as a fan in the 60's or 70's would have seen.)

You see one like Greg Moore at Fontana in '99 and you know before it's even over that there's no hope. (Most ferocious crash I've ever seen. In any video game where I have to choose a number, I choose "99". People always assume it's for Gretzky. It isn't. It's for Greg.)

Then there's the Ayrton Senna type that seem eminently survivable, but once the dust has settled and you know it wasn't you can understand it.

Then there's a crash like Robert Kubica's in Montreal (Get well soon Robert) where you think he's got to at least be injured and he walks away.

Then there was Earnhardt's, where it's just utterly baffling that it was fatal. It looks like such a minor crash. NASCAR has seen far, far worse.

During the recent Daytona 24hr race Speed ran a tribute piece for Earnhardt running in that very race. They had an interview with him saying he'd like to try Le Mans.

A few weeks later he was dead.

posted by Drood at 11:35 AM on February 08, 2011

Was so strange as it was one of the least fatal looking crashes I've ever seen.

I've never seen that footage before, but Darrell Waltrip's reaction -- even as his brother wins -- is telling. It puts it into the Senna category, which I remember watching: that was a cursed weekend at Imola.

posted by etagloh at 01:19 PM on February 08, 2011

I hadn't seen the footage either. It's worth seeing. The Waltrips are so happy, and it's all about to be dashed by Earnhardt's death. It's interesting to see Schrader interviewed at the end, knowing what we do now.

posted by rcade at 02:27 PM on February 08, 2011

I've seen the footage before and really didn't want to see it again.

With Senna's crash, Berger had had a much worse crash at Tamburello five years earlier, AND caught fire, and had been fine once his burns healed and was back racing a month later. It was just a freak accident.

I know there were all the conspiracy theories about Earnhardt and someone had tampered with his seatbelts etc...

Absolute horseshit. Bad things happen in racing sometimes. We're so used to people walking away these days that it makes it all the more shocking when they don't.

posted by Drood at 04:49 PM on February 08, 2011

A Hans Device, which most drivers used at that time, but not Earnhardt, would have kept his head from snapping forward at impact and, as many think, probably saved his life. It's too bad, but the older drivers probably didn't like certain (newer) technologies that may have restricted their movements in the car.

posted by dyams at 09:03 PM on February 08, 2011

Hard to believe that was 10 years ago.

I don't watch a lot of NASCAR, but I was watching that, and it really was difficult to understand how that was a fatal impact. It's deceiving due to how fast the cars are moving forward, but he does hit that wall at an incredible rate of speed.

I remember how much heat Marlin received, especially given that any contact was due to Earnhardt coming down into him, and was glad to see Jr. move past it.

As to the head restraint, funny (in a very non-funny way) how older athletes resist adapting new safety devices. Similar to hockey players resisting helmets when they were first introduced. I bet you couldn't find a player that would play without his helmet now.

posted by dviking at 11:36 PM on February 08, 2011

I didn't understand why it was so serious at the time either. But when you think about how much energy struck that wall, and how there was no deflection to send it anywhere but the car, it should have been more clear to me.

I live an hour north of Daytona. I didn't watch the race, but I found out when local newscasts interrupting their programming. The place was in shock. Losing the greatest driver in the sport at the Daytona 500 on the final lap was hard to believe.

posted by rcade at 08:45 AM on February 09, 2011

The Florida Times-Union has a interesting story today on the tech that's protecting drivers today. Eliot Sadler's crash at Pocono last year was higher than 80 Gs. Earnhardt's fatal crash, by comparison, was 45 to 50.

posted by rcade at 10:35 AM on February 09, 2011

I was watching the race on tv when Dale had the accident. I knew from Kenny Schrader's reaction that something was seriously wrong. I think CBS knew something was wrong too because they didn't show what was going on around Dale's car the entire time they tried to remove him. The accident didn't seem that bad in comparison to so many others. It's not what you hit, it's how you hit it. Dale hit the wall pretty much head on. Going 190 mph to less than 100 mph in the blink of an eye is more than the body can take.

Dale was "old school". He never wore a closed face helmet like everyone wore back then. Head and neck restraints were just starting to come into the sport. Most drivers didn't wear one. Dale was a leader in the garage area. He went to Nascar with concerns of the drivers to help make the sport better. No one has picked that title up and ran with it. Hopefully in time someone will.

You are missed Mr. Earnhardt.

posted by dbt302 at 12:42 PM on February 09, 2011

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