NASCAR is one of the most exciting sports in the United States. It brings excitement and thrills to fans of all ages, as cars go at extremely fast speeds and test the limits of what can be done in a car. A NASCAR vehicle can reach 200 miles an hour, and accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in as quickly as three seconds. It is truly remarkable how fast these cars go and the risk they put themselves through.
Unfortunately, with these limits being tested comes a lot of tragic moments that the sport has brought us. NASCAR is currently on their longest streak without there being a fatality, however, the sport has still seen 28 deaths in its long history.
Weatherly was known as one of the greatest showmen in the sport during the time when he was racing, which makes his death all the more tragic. The backstory of his death starts when he was racing and his engine blew and his car was up in flames as he crossed the finish line. This spooked the normally very confident driver, and he later refused to use a window net or shoulder harness as he was scared of being stuck in a burning car. This proved to cost him his life, as in another race, he struck a wall and passed instantly.
Petty was a fourth generation NASCAR driver. He was the son of Kyle Petty, grandson of Richard Petty, and the great-grandson of Lee Petty, who was one of the very first NASCAR drivers. Petty's passing came in 2000 during practice rounds at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000. He was 19 years old when the tragedy occured.
Kenny Irwin Jr. had a very bright future ahead of him. The racer was racing in a junior league by the time he was in second grade, and began racing on his father's time in the IMSA American Challenge Stock Car Series when he was only a teenager. Irwin Jr. had all the hype in the world surrounding him, as people were comparing him to superstar Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, he was never given the opportunity to live up to his hype, as he tragically passed away during a practice session at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The passing of Dale Earnhardt hit the NASCAR community extremely hard. It stunned not only the NASCAR world, but the entire sports community as a whole. Earnhardt was a NASCAR driver who is the only racer to win a Rookie of the Year and then win a championship the following year. Earnhardt's passing came at the Daytona 500, which is considered to be the Superbowl of stock car racing. The tragedy happened on the last lap as he was battling against his own son for the top spot. Racer Ken Schrader tapped the rear of Earnhardt's car which caused it to make a hard turn into the wall. Schrader was able to escape his vehicle in time, but Earnhard tragically passed away on impact of hitting the wall.
The legacy of Dale Earnhardt has not and will not be forgotten. The achievements he had while alive were incredible. As difficult as his death was for the sports world, it has made the sport of NASCAR far safer and a much better experience. In 2001, NASCAR mandated the use of head-and-neck restraining devices. They also began requiring the use of SAFER barriers at the top of race tracks. These walls were made of foam and they slightly move upon impact, dissipate energy, and reduce the force exerted on the driver.
NASCAR alsdo developed the Car of Tomorrow, which was a result of extensive research that was conducted after Earnhardt's death. This car was established with numerous safety improvements that drastically helped in making stock car racing safer for everyone involved. The changes that were made since the tragedy have proved to be extremely successful, as there has not been one fatality since the tragedy. Ryan Newman had a terrifying collision that appeared to be almost identical to the one Earnhardt had in 2020. However, with the new changes that were in place, Newman walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours after the tragedy.