Many racers have died at Daytona

This week, race teams lined the streets in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with their transporters and Midget race cars to do battle in the 2018 edition of the famous Chili Bowl race event. More than 200 cars are entered and all week heat races and last chance qualifiers will be held to set the starting field of 24 cars for Saturday’s feature event indoors.

These powerful little brothers of the World of Outlaws Sprint cars are powered by four cylinder power plants manufactured by Ford, Toyota and other custom engine combinations. They have more than 400 horse power and only weigh around 900 lbs. This makes their power to weight ratio some of the highest in motorsports. Check out my column next week for all the results. The feature event will be televised live on MavTV at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday evening.

This year’s Daytona 500 will be run on Feb. 18. This will be the 17th year since Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in the crash on the last lap of that race and will be run on the same date as his crash in 2001. NASCAR fans are discussing this fact and it has renewed the commentary surrounding the loss of this great racing champion.

Unlike many of the comments I see and hear, I respectfully disagree that NASCAR racing died 17 years ago with his death. Yes, it has made a tremendous impact on the sport and while he is truly missed on the track, he was a great driver, but he was not God. There were many great drivers who paid the ultimate price throughout the years. Many of these deaths actually brought about gains in safety and have benefited not only racing but the cars we drive every day.

Something we take for granted almost, the seat belt, was invented because drivers were being thrown from their cars in accidents. The rear view mirror was first used in the Indy 500 because of the dangers and the weight of carrying a riding mechanic. Dale’s accident brought about the use of Full Face helmets, Hanz device type head and neck restraints, Saferbarrier walls now line every track on the NASCAR schedule. Drivers are now also aware of the proper mounting of seat belts and the seats themselves have improved drastically over even the last few years. This is evident even at our local dirt track. A driver’s death last year in Ohio resulted in wholesale changes in fire suppression systems and tracks view on fire safety. Tire designs have improved because of racing also.

I wanted to take a look and remember drivers who paid that ultimate price through the years at Daytona International Speedway. This track has proven to be the deadliest track on the NASCAR schedule. Since this superspeedway opened in 1959, 40 people have lost their lives there. A total of 23 of these were driving race cars, with 12 motorcyclists, three go-kart racers, one powerboat racer and one track worker.

It’s interesting that a power boat racer was included. Many of you may not know but there is a huge man-made lake in the infield of the track. Lake Lloyd hosts fishing tournaments and in 1959 a driver was killed during the Southern States Outboard Championship sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association.

The track worker was killed when he was struck by a car while picking up debris during an IPower Dash race event in 2004.

I want to focus on the stock car drivers who have lost their lives there and, most specifically, during ARCA or NASCAR events. The first driver killed there was a great race driver in his day, Marshall Teague, who died while attempting to set a closed course speed record in a modified Indy type car on Feb. 11, 1959. Marshall won many NASCAR and USAC events.

George Amick died in an Indy car crash during a USAC race there on April 4, 1959. Habe Haberling died in a practice session for a NASCAR modified division race on Feb. 21, 1961.

A driver who had shown tremendous potential in a very short career, Billy Wade, died when he crashed during a tire test on Jan. 5, 1965.

On Feb. 22, 1969, Don MacTavish had one of the most horrifying crashes ever during a Sportsman race and died instantly. He was a great New England modified star.

Tab Prince was killed during a 125-mile qualifying race on Feb. 19, 1970.

Tennessee’s Friday Hassler was killed in one of these qualifying races on Feb. 17, 1972. Don Williams died during the Permatex 300 sportsman race on Feb. 17, 1979.

The 125-mile qualifying race claimed another life when Ricky Knotts was killed on Feb. 14, 1980. Then on Feb. 17, 1983, Bruce Jacobi suffered life-ending injuries and died four years later after being in a coma. This was also a 125-mile qualifier race.

On Feb. 7, 1985, Francis Afflek died while practicing for the ARCA event. On Dec. 15, 1985, while participating in a test for Pontiac Dash cars, Charles Ogle crashed and died.

On Feb. 13, 1987, Joe Young died during the Dash race. On Feb. 11, 1990, during the ARCA 200, Slick Johnson was involved in a multi-car crash and was killed. Slick also was involved 10 years earlier in the crash that killed Ricky Knotts.

On Feb. 12, 1993, Joe Booher was killed during the Comfort Coach 200 for Dash series cars.

There were two fatalities in February of 1994 during practice runs for the Daytona 500. On the 11th, racing great Neil Bonnett, who was making a comeback from injuries, crashed in turn 4. Then Rodney Orr crashed on the 14th when a shock mount broke in turn two and the car flipped and struck the wall roof first.

The last death at the superspeedway happened on the last lap of the Daytona 500, Feb. 18, 2001, when ,as NASCAR vice president stated, “We have lost Dale Earnhardt.”

This sent shock waves through the NASCAR community and literally across the nation. There were several fatalities in sports car and super bike motorcycle accidents also. Let’s hope that we continue to have no more deaths since all the safety improvements but, racing continues to be a serious and dangerous sport.

We will be praying for the competitors as Speedweeks 2018 kick off with the Rolex 24 Sports car event in a few weeks. Remember, at the end of that long back straightaway there’s another left turn!

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