Imagine driving down the interstate behind a tractor-trailer hauling lumber. Then, without warning, a stack of concrete blocks falls from the bed and you run over them at full speed, forcing you to lose control as the blocks tear your car apart. You see engine parts and fender pieces littering the highway in the rearview mirror. Your ears are ringing from the collision; your confidence is shaken to the bone.
Now you know how many of the drivers in Sunday’s road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway felt.
When the curbing lining the right-side of the sixth turn peeled from the pavement, it became racing’s version of a lost load. Cars that hit the curbing became airborne. Those a little deeper in the field lost control trying to steer through the debris field. Track workers not only tried a couple times to reattach the curbing, but they also had to replace one of the tire walls after it took a relentless beating from 3,300-pound, four-wheeled wrecking balls.
And while the ending, which included the final four laps of regulation and 13 laps of overtime, will be remembered as one of the most-bizarre finishes in NASCAR history, it pales in comparison to some of the other crazy NASCAR memories. In fact, I saw all 10 of these in person:
10. Dale Earnhardt hits a seagull. The Daytona 500 was elusive to Dale Earnhardt for most of his career. He always seemed to have the best car, only to have his hopes crushed by some of the strangest circumstance, including his Chevrolet Lumina striking a seagull on the backstretch. The impact punched a hole in the nose near the left headlight area. He fell from the lead to a fifth-place finish. Earnhardt finally got a 500 win in 1998, and it turned out to be his only victory in the Great American Race in 23 attempts.
9. The Pocono Raceway once was a spinach farm built on top of a mountain. Despite the roaring noise and commotion of race cars and thousands of fans, there remains an over-abundance of wildlife at the racetrack, including bears and deer. Neil Bonnett learned that the hard way in 1984. Flagman Harold Kinder stuck his thumbs in his ears at the start/finish line and extended his fingers in the air like antlers to warn drivers of a deer on the track during practice. By then it was too late. Bonnett struck the deer between the tunnel turn and Turn 3. The impact punched a hole in the nose of Bonnett’s Chevrolet – and it vaporized the young deer. What was left of the animal was embedded in his grill, and one of its hoofs was stuck in the radiator.
8. A.J. Foyt was a fiery Texan who didn’t concern himself with other people’s opinions. So, when he felt the urge to relieve himself during 1988 Winston 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway, Foyt pulled onto pit road. He climbed from his Oldsmobile, went into a port-a-potty and returned to the race a few moments later. He wound up finishing 28th, finishing five laps down.
7. Mark Martin was known for being a calculating, careful and considerate driver. But one night at the Bristol Motor Speedway, he calculated poorly to create one of the most-embarrassing moments in what’s now known as the Xfinity Series. In 1994, Martin was leading the Goody’s 250 when the caution flag waved after Robert Pressley slammed into the third-turn wall with four laps remaining. Knowing the race would finish under caution, Martin didn’t count down the laps properly and pulled off the track toward Victory Lane 300 short of the finish line. David Green inherited the most-unexpected win, leaving Martin to admit the obvious: ““That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, I think.”
6. We all hate hitting a pothole, but nothing compares to hitting a hole at nearly 200 mph. Daytona International Speedway had several delays to fill holes with Bondo and epoxy during the 2010 Daytona 500. A chuck of concrete ripped the front of Jeff Gordon’s car to pieces in 2004 at the Martinsville Speedway. And year the race had to be stopped at the Atlanta Motor Speedway to fix large gaping holes on the frontstretch. Gordon was going for his third consecutive victory at Martinsville with a one-foot square, four inches thick chuck of concrete became dislodged and got airborne by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car – and into Gordon’s front bumper. Gordon said the impact was so severe it, “jerked the steering wheel out of my hands.”
5. Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt loved pranking each other. In 2001, Earnhardt stuffed sardines under Wallace’s seat padding before the Southern 500. It was 105-degrees and Wallace had to contend with the smell of rotting fish for more than four hours. A week later at the Bristol Motor Speedway, Wallace stole Earnhardt’s steering wheel before the race. He didn’t give it back until cars started rolling off pit road for the 500-mile race. Wallace also was credited with putting a bumper sticker on Earnhardt’s car during practice at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that read: “How’s My Driving? Call 1-800-Eat-$@#t.”
4. Drivers generally don’t like signing autographs when they’re at work at the racetrack. Maybe that’s why Matt Kenseth refused to sign for a fan who jumped the fence at Watkins Glen International during a red-flag period and ran up to Kenseth’s window for the bizarre request. Kenseth didn’t sign and the fan was “apprehended.”
3. The inaugural race at the Chicagoland Speedway in 2004 was sponsored by Tropicana orange juice. PepsiCo decided to install a 20-foot orange balloon at the exit of the fourth turn to promote its product. During qualifying, a gust of wind pulled the balloon from its mooring, and the balloon rolled along the frontstretch as Todd Szegedy tried to qualify for the Xfinity Series race. The balloon eventually deflated and landed on top of some motorhomes.
2. FOX’s Skycams provided football fans with some spectacular aerial views during the NFL season, but the cable-operated camera became one of NASCAR’s biggest headaches during the 2013 All-Star race. The cable holding the moving camera broke along the frontstretch and fell onto the track. A portion of the cable wrapped around Kyle Busch’s rear axle. Ten fans were injured when they grabbed the cable before it was stretched tight by Busch’s car. NASCAR gave teams 15 minutes to repair their cars while network and track crews gathered up the quarter-mile cable.
1. Of course, nothing tops Juan Pablo Montoya’s fiery exit from the 2012 Daytona 500. The race was pushed back to Monday night by heavy rain. Jet dryers were used to help clean up a mess during a caution period following David Stremme’s accident at the end of the backstretch. Montoya was alone on the backstretch when his Chevrolet suddenly veered into the emergency vehicle, rupturing the fuel tank for the jet engine. Montoya and Duane Burnes, the driver of the truck pulling the jet dryer, escaped ahead of a massive fireball. It took crews more than two hours to make repairs – all while the cars were parked on the backstretch. Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. used the down time for a foot race to a port-a-potty behind the backstretch wall. Keselowski also used his cell phone to post photos of fire on his social media page. Kenseth eventually took the checkered flag at 1 a.m. Tuesday.
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