Worst NASCAR Crashes in History

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The National Association for Stock Car Racing, better known as NASCAR, was founded in 1948 in Daytona Beach, Fla., by racer and race-track promoter Bill France, Sr. It had immense appeal in the South in its first decades, but over time has attracted a national following.

NASCAR has not released attendance figures since 2014, but its races are among America’s best-attended sports events. Twelve of the 23 tracks in the NASCAR Cup series have a maximum capacity of more than 100,000. And while many attend to appreciate the skills of the drivers motoring at speeds of nearly 200 mph, there are those who go hoping to see “the big one,” a massive pileup of vehicles. (These incidents, of course, are much worse than the 20 kinds of car accidents Americans get in the most.)

To compile a list of the worst crashes in NASCAR history, 24/7 Tempo used reference materials from sources such as racing websites like Hotcars and The Motor Digest, as well as ESPN, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Stock car racing has its roots in the Appalachian region, with moonshiners who drove souped-up cars to evade government revenue agents during the Great Depression. The cars eventually started racing at state fairs and local racetracks and found that their brand of hellbent driving could draw thousands of spectators. (For another variation on auto racing, see the most exciting races in Indy 500 history.)

NASCAR ruefully learned that racing could come at a hefty price. Pileups involving too many cars forced the organization to limit the number of vehicles. Tragedies involving car fires forced the organization to require drivers to wear fire-retardant clothing and for vehicles to have fire-extinguishing systems. 

Horrific wrecks also have prompted NASCAR to install protective nets in all its racing cars for the safety of drivers and spectators. After a crash in 1987 at the Talladega Superspeedway, racing officials even mandated restrictor plates that regulate the speed of the vehicles.

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