"The Big One"- 10 Notorious Talladega Crashes

by Jim on April 23, 2009 · 13 comments

Is it not fitting that the name Talladega means “pulverized rock” in the language of the Choctaw Indians? Not only is Talladega the home of NASCAR’s biggest track and home to NASCAR’s fastest laps times, it is also home to some of NASCAR’s most spectacular crashes.

Today, with help from YouTube (just click on the hyperlinks), we present you some of the most spectacular incidents at Talladega. It serves to remind us of incredible speeds (even with restrictor plates) that race cars achieve, the dangers associated with the sport, and immeasurable toughness of its drivers.

It’s at Talladega where Buddy Baker became the first driver to achieve a speed of 200 miles per hour while qualifying in 1970. “Awesome Bill” Elliott set a NASCAR record with a speed of 212 miles per hour in  1987. In practice, Rusty Wallace topped 216 (!) miles per hour while practicing in 2004.

Such speeds combined with a car that weighs over 3-thousand pounds makes for a dangerous mix- especially when you consider there are 43 cars doing the same thing.

Here are 10 notorious Talladega crashes. No doubt many of you longtime race fans remember these crashes, and perhaps still talk about them to this day.

#1- Bobby Allison in the 1987 Winston 500 – This is the incident that paved the way for the introduction of the restrictor plate into racing at super speedways like Daytona and Talladega. Allison spun turning on to the front stretch and flew up into the catch fence, tearing up a section of it. Richard Petty and Alan Kulwicki got also got collected in the crash. Bobby’s brother Donnie came to check on him, and when Donnie asked if Bobby was o.k. Allison replied “Yes”, but he added “You won’t believe the ride I just took.”

#2- Ricky Craven in the 1996 Winston Select 500 – The incident all starts when Jeff Gordon tries to go to the outside of Mark Martin. Gordon sends Martin into the wall, and the ensuing crash sends Ricky Craven flying violently into the catch fence. Five cars had actually gone underneath Craven while he was airborn. Pit reporter Jerry Punch shows some unusual damage found on the car of Ricky Rudd.

#3- Dale Earnhardt in the 1996 Die Hard 500 – Ernie Irvan was attempting a pass when he got into Sterling Marlin. Marlin’s car hit Earnhardt, sending the Intimidator into one of the most chilling crashes of his career. The crash causes Earnhardt to break his collarbone, but he’s determine to walk away under his own power. Robert Pressley and Derrike Cope were also involved.

#4- Bill Elliott in the 1998 Die Hard 500 – A little contact goes a long way when Ward Burton seems to barely touch Dale Earnhardt. The contact sends the #3 into Bill Elliott, who’s car is just demolished. In the same incident- Chad Little hits the #21 driven by Michael Waltrip. Jerry Nadeau, Ken Schrader and Bobby Hamilton are also involved.

#5- Rusty Wallace in the 1993 Winston 500 – One more than one occasion I’ve said that it’s quite possible that Rusty Wallace may hold the NASCAR record for airborne crashes. As Ernie Irvan heads for victory- Wallace goes into a wild barrel roll that he manages to walk away from. Unbelievable.

#6- Mike Wallace in the 2004 Aaron’s 312 (Busch Series)- Wallace gets loose in the tri-oval,crashing into Greg Biffle and setting off a chain reaction crash, that among other things sends Kasey Kahne running wildly into the wall on pit road. Johnny Benson, Jason Leffler and several other cars were collected in the crash.

#7- Trevor Boys in the 1984 Talladega 500 -  In this crash, Tommy Ellis sends Boys’ #48 into a “Talladega Flip” that he was fortunately easily able to walk away from.

#8- Elliott Sadler in the 2003 Aaron’s 499 – Contact from Kurt Busch sends Sadler flying into one of the most spectacular barrel rolls ever captured on camera. A lot of drivers report a feeling of breathlessness while flying through a wreck like this as if someone knocked the wind out of them. This crash will take your breath away. Fortunately, Sadler walks away. Sadler would also finish a 2004 race on his roof.

#9- Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2006 UAW- Ford 500 – This one is not notorious because of how the car crashed, but the controversy it created. Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be well on his way to victory until Jimmie Johnson got into him, after Brian Vickers nudged Johnson on the final lap, paving the way to Vickers’ lone (thus far) career victory. Some blame Vickers, some blame Johnson, but either way, that large, loyal throng known as Junior Nation is quite vocal about every guy involved here but their guy. In this case, the disdain is understandable. On this video, you get the last 9 laps or so and you just brace yourself waiting for the hit.

#10- Larry Pearson in the 1989 Winston 500 – Pearson’s car was simply demolished in this incident that also included Michael Waltrip, Derrike Cope, Hut Stricklin and Kyle Petty. Geoff Bodine a la Cole Trickle in Days Of Thunder manages to drive through the wreck fest. In spite of a fierce hit at a bad angle, Pearson is o.k.

BONUS: 1987 ARCA Permatex 500k – This wild affair is notable for sheer numbers. Gary Bettenhausen crashes into the wall, Grant Adcox is involved as is Tracey Read, Patty Simko, Bobby Jacks and Rick Jeffrey among others. What a mess!

BONUS #2: 2008 Amp Energy 500 – Here’s a recent memory from the last Cup race at Talladega. For Carl Edwards, who started the collision bump drafting Greg Biffle in the turn, the fallout was worse than the crash. He and Kevin Harvick got into a dust up before the next race, and it pretty well derailed any hope Edward had of catching Jimmie Johnson for the championships.

THE MOTHER OF ALL “BIG ONES”- There’s no video footage of this crash, but thanks to John at closefinishes.com, we learn of the “mother of all big ones.” According to John and “All About Racin’” dot com, 60 cars were permitted to start the 1973 Winston 500. On lap 28, Ramo Stotts’ engine blew, triggering a 21-car crash that knocked 18 cars out of the race. Seriously injured in the crash was Wendell Scott, the only African- American driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race.

Hey- I should also note that in the “comments” area below, we had a reader list off other memorable crashes from Talladega lore.

All of this serves to remind us of the thrill and danger of super speedway racing. Thankfully, for today’s driver, we’re not as worried about life and dearth as we once were, but the “big ones” sure make one remember there’s risk associated with  this sport unlike any other.

So…..Ready for Talladega now?

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NASCAR Link Roundup for April 24, 2009 « Restrictor Plated: NASCAR Blog and Sprint Cup Twitter
April 24, 2009 at 11:39 am
Breaking down the biggest of the Big Ones at Talladega | Hit the skids
April 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm


1 Jeremy April 24, 2009 at 3:41 am

#9 needs corrected, Brian Vickers caused that crash by getting into Jimmie Johnson first.

2 Michele McNamara April 24, 2009 at 4:26 am

you brought back some, I hate to say good memories, since they were crashes but they were memorable. I still wince. I wonder what we are to see this go round. I will be watching! Great links!

3 Josh Smith April 24, 2009 at 9:07 am

A decent list, but you missed some of the most memorable. Here’s a few that you totally overlooked:

May 1991 – Mark Martin does a nose-stand with his car in an 18 car wreck that broke Kyle Petty’s leg.

July 1993 – Jimmy Horton flips OVER THE WALL in turn 1 in a horrific multi-car crash. His car was FLATTENED as a result but he escaped uninjured. Later in the same race, Neil Bonnett tried to tear down the catchfence in the tri-oval after flipping up and over Jimmy Hensley’s car in a 7 car incident. He also was uninjured.

July 1995 – In the Busch race, Ward Burton slid 1000 ft down the frontstretch on his roof as 15 other cars crashed around him. Later on in the same race, Randy LaJoie, subbing for a sick Tommy Ellis, flips twice coming out of turn 4 in a 10 car wreck. Then the next day in the Cup race, Ken Schrader cartwheeled 6 times down the backstretch in a 15 car melee.

April 2005 – The Busch series event features one 20 car wreck 10 laps in, while 25 laps from the finish, another 10-plus car wreck ends with Casey Mears sliding all the way from the start/fnish line into turn 1.

There are more, but these stood out in my mind the most.

4 Josh Smith April 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

Correction- Casey Mears slid all the way from the start/finish line to turn 1….on his roof.

5 jimmccoy22 April 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

@Josh. That’s why I didn’t say the 10 MOST- I knew there’d be more I hadn’t seen before. Thanks for adding yours to the list.
@ Josh #3. I won’t argue that Casey did or did not in that race BUT…watch this.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLmhfUm2hUk&feature=PlayList&p=B08893411C702706&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=4. This video features Elliott’s 2003 flip and the 2004. I will note, however, that in that wreck Sadler headed to the start/finish, but by the time he got there, he flipped back right side up.

6 John April 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm

You missed the mother of all ‘Big Ones’ – the 1973 Winston 500. A blown engine in Ramo Stott’s car on Lap 8 caused 19 cars to crash and all but ended the career of Wendall Scott.

You can’t have a “Big One’s’ list without this one – the first-ever ‘Big One’ at Talladega.

7 janine April 24, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Yes, Dega is famous for the big one, so is Daytona. But hasn’t Dega gone caution free twice? Someone want to check that out?

8 janine April 24, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I found it at ask.com It’s 3 times.

9 Josh April 24, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Three times actually, Janine. May ’97, April ’01, and October ’02. I still find it hard to believe it happened there once, let alone 3 times in a span of 5 years. I think it’s gonna be a long time before that happens there again. The new car is too dicey at the restrictor plate tracks now. Shoot, the fall race last year had 28 different leaders, not to mention there were 50 lead changes before the halfway mark and 64 in all. The competition is as tight as ever at Talladega and because of that……well, we saw what happened last fall.

10 Chris April 24, 2009 at 9:15 pm

No disrespect to anyone… I just wish that people that write about things like this were either privy to the racing at the time or did their respective research. New fans are great, but please refrain from your top lists when you can report on only the last 10 to 20 years. If you must make a comment, at least qualify your limited boundaries. Some of us witnessed and read about the racing in the 50′s, 60s. 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. This like a slap in the face when we read stuff like this. My direct knowledge of racing started in 1976. I recall some of the following:
Rear steer
Front steer
Bias-ply tires
The Hat Man
Regals, Cutlasses, Grand Prix, Le Sabres, Thunderbirds, etc…
When Ford was not racing
Reagan at the Firecracker 400
Dick Trickle smoking while driving (as I know caution laps only)
Kyle Petty taking a step back from driving to sing country music
Awesome Bill from Dawsonville
Tim Richmond (the story line for Days of Thunder)….
and much more….
Just qualify your statements… PLEASE!

11 ronald barnes November 4, 2009 at 9:12 am

miss one 2002 busch series 27 car wreck red flag for 40mins only 5 cars finished on lead lap

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