Drag racing is an exciting, yet dangerous sport. Although organisations like the NHRA and IHRA in American and the FIA in Europe make every effort to ensure safety in the sport, it’s inevitable that accidents will happen when a driver takes a car from zero to 300mph in a quarter of a mile. This article provides a guide to the most famous drag racing crashes.
Some of the most famous accidents took place on the drag strips of America. Each of the following drag racing crashes can be found online or within compilation DVDs and on drag racing videos. Memphis 2000 Multiple Top Fuel Champion Tony Schumacher's crash in Memphis took him over the retainer wall. The driver, who is known as ‘The Sarge’ because he drives the US Army machine, was travelling at 320mph when his rear wing collapsed. He was bruised and bloodied. However, he survived.
During a Funny Car race in Texas 2007, two legends of the sport, Kenny Bernstein and John Force came together. The accident during the quarter final round of the NHRA Fall Nationals at Texas Motorplex began as the cars crossed the finish line. As the parachute in Force's car deployed, it suddenly veered right across the track and into Kenny Bernstein’s machine. The bodywork was shorn off as Force hit the retaining wall and turned upside down. As a result of this accident, a change was made to the rules governing the construction of both Funny Cars and of Top Fuel Dragsters.
New Jersey 2008
The following season tragedy during the final round of qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, Scott Kalitta lost his life. As his Funny Car reached the finish line, the engine exploded. It damaged his parachute and as a result, he couldn’t slow down. When the sand trap at the end of the track failed to halt his progress, he hit a concrete post. This crash led to several safety improvements including lengthened sand traps and added padding to the retaining walls at the end of sand traps. New technology has also been installed into the cars to automatically shut down the fuel pump and to deploy the parachute in the event of an engine backfire.
As with fatal F1 crashes like those that took the lives of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994, accidents in drag racing lead to safety innovations. Today, spectators are not allowed within 75 feet of the racetrack and ten foot high fences are in place to stop debris from making its way into the stands.