Indy 500 Accidents
by Trevor Whenham - 05/16/2008
The Indianapolis 500 features 33 cars running at an average speed of about 150 miles per hour, and they all want to win. It's not a wonder that there are often accidents, and that those Indy 500 accidents often don't end well. No one wants to see anyone get seriously hurt or worse, but most sports fans would be lying if the said that they didn't tune into the Indy 500 at least partly so that they can see some wrecks. When it comes to Indy 500 accidents there have been some real doozies through the years. This may be the most morbid article I have ever written, but here is a look at some of the more remarkable Indy 500 accidents over the years.
Thankfully, fatalities have been very rare in the modern era. The last death occurred in 1973. Swede Savage skidded on a patch of oil in turn four and smashed into the inside wall. Savage was thrown back across the track to the outside wall while still strapped into his seat. He was conscious when he left the track, but he died in hospital 33 days after the race. The carnage didn't end there, unfortunately. Armando Teran, a crew member for Savage's team, was killed when he was hit by a fire truck that was racing to the scene of the wreck.
That wasn't the only problem that marred the ugly 1973 race. Salt Walther crashed in the front straightaway early in the race. He was severely burned. To add to the danger, he crashed near the outside wall and gas sprayed over the barrier and into the crowd. Eleven other cars were also damaged in the accident. Another driver, Wally Dallenbach, was the first person on the scene to aid Walther.
There's no such thing as a funny accident, but one in 1971 comes as close as is possible. Car dealer Eldon Palmer was driving the pace car when he lost control during the 1971 race and crashed into the photographers' stand. As you can imagine, there were some pretty good pictures of the incident.
A terrifying accident in 1995 didn't kill any drivers, but anyone who saw it, myself included, was instantly certain that it had. Eddie Cheever hit the car driven by Stan Fox just 10 seconds into the race and literally ripped it in half. The car went flying through the air, disintegrating as it went, but somehow Fox was fine.
Wrecks can scare off even the finest drivers, and it doesn't have to be a spectacular wreck to do so. Louis Meyer had won the Indy 500 in 1928, 1933 and 1936, so he had as much as experience with the race as it was possible to have. In 1939 he crashed into the inner guard rail with three laps left. It was an innocent looking crash, and he was completely unhurt, but it obviously messed with his mind - he announced his retirement at the end of the race, and never raced again.
Sadly, accidents have injured and killed fans attending the race as well. There have been very significant improvements to safety and security, and we haven't seen a fatal incident since 1987. In that race Tony Bettenhausen lost a wheel in the third turn. Roberto Guerrero hit the tire with his nose cone and launched it straight up into the air with tremendous force. The tire came down in the top row of the trackside grandstand and struck patron Lyle Kurtenbach. He was killed instantly. The Bettenhausen family did not have a lucky history at the Indy 500 - Tony's father, Tony Sr., was killed in a practice accident in 1961.
The deadliest race in the modern era occurred in 1964. An ugly crash and the ensuing massive blaze on the second lap of the race killed both Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. MacDonald caused the accident when he lost control and hit the wall, causing his full gas tank to ignite. He slid back down into the track involving seven other cars in the crash. Later in that same race, 1963 winner Parnelli Jones had to jump from his car in the pit to save himself after it also lit on fire. Given this race and others like 1973 it's not a wonder that significantly reducing the flammability of the fuel the cars run on and increases the integrity of the fuel tanks has been a major priority of recent years.