Worst Crashes in Daytona 500 History

Source: David Taylor / Getty Images

The Daytona 500, which will be run on Feb. 19, has been the season-opening event for the NASCAR Cup Series since 1982. The event, held at Daytona Beach, Florida, since 1959 has been dubbed “the Great American Race.” (For information on the other major annual auto race, see the most exciting races in Indy 500 history.)

The race has been won by Richard Petty seven times, followed by Cale Yarborough with four victories. While some of driving’s best have enjoyed success at Daytona, however, the race has also witnessed spectacular crack-ups and tragedies.

In order to find the worst car wrecks in Daytona 500 history, 24/7 Tempo consulted videos from YouTube, Fox Sports, and various auto-racing media such as Motor Digest and various general-interest media to compile its list. There have been other wrecks at the Daytona track besides those during the famed 500 race, but we focused just on accidents that occurred during the Great American Race.

The Daytona 500 is one of America’s best-attended sports events. And while many go to appreciate the skills of the drivers motoring at speeds of nearly 200 mph, there are those who attend hoping to see “the big one” – a massive pileup of vehicles. Sometimes, though, the crashes have tragic results. A chain reaction of accidents in the 1961 race put Lee Petty, father of NASCAR star Richard Petty, in a coma for four days. And a terrible wreck in 2001 claimed the life of racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001. (Amateurs have tragic car wrecks far from any racing track too, of course. These are the worst car accidents in America since the 1990s.) 

Pileups involving too many cars forced NASCAR to limit the number of vehicles. (There will be 42 this year.) In addition, tragedies involving car fires forced the organization to require drivers to wear fire-retardant clothing and horrific wrecks also have prompted NASCAR to install protective nets in all its racing cars for the safety of drivers and spectators alike.

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