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?