McDowell’s Wreck Reminds All Of The Violence In Racing

Charlotte, NC – Every so often, you get a glimpse of just how violent auto racing can be.

Michael McDowell’s wicked crash during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend was one of those moments. Crashes like McDowell’s send shivers down your spine. You hold your breath hoping the driver will somehow not be seriously injured and are totally amazed when he walks away from the incident – which is what McDowell somehow did on Friday.

In case you missed it, McDowell’s No. 00 Toyota Camry was on its second qualifying lap and going more than 200 miles per hour when it wiggled entering Turn 1. The car veered right and slammed virtually head-on into the outside wall flipping over. The 3,400 pound vehicle then spun upside down for several hundred yards before beginning a series of eight barrel rolls down the 24-degree banking before coming to rest back on its wheels on the track apron, an unrecognizable hulk of twisted, smoldering metal.

A hush fell over the racetrack as the fans in attendance tried to process what they just seen. The severity of the wreck also slowed activity in the garage area as teams put down their tools long enough to watch the replays. Incredibly, McDowell was able to climb from the mangled car under his own power and walk to the awaiting safety vehicle. The crowd let out a huge cheer knowing they had just seen McDowell cheat death. Teams went back to work, ever more mindful of the dangers in their sport.

Even the rookie driver knew he had experienced a life moment when he later saw replays of the crash.

“That’s one of the worst wrecks I’ve seen, for sure, in a while and I’m not excited I had to participate in it,” McDowell stated.


“That was the hardest hit I’ve ever seen anybody take,” said fellow driver Tony Stewart afterward. “That was a pretty impressive crash. It was just good to see him get out and walk around. That makes you look at what NASCAR’s done and say that they’re doing a good job of doing what they’re doing with the [new car] and the SAFER barriers. We’ve got a lot of people to thank today because of the hard work and the hours that we all don’t know about, to take an accident like that and watch him get out and walk to the ambulance.”

Since Friday, McDowell’s crash has been replayed on nearly every major sports news show. Each time you see it, you are amazed at the sheer violence of it. Hitting a stationary object like a concrete wall, at 200 miles per hour creates a lot of energy. You can certainly conjecture that without the SAFER Barrier in place, McDowell wouldn’t have been so fortunate.

But somehow, McDowell survived – and was so unhurt in the incident that he raced Sunday finishing 33rd. Racing in an untested back-up car, McDowell completed 332 of the 339 laps contested. It was his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start.

“I thank the guys back in the shop,” said McDowell. “They make these cars extremely safe. They spend the extra time padding everything. For me to walk away from that wreck, right there, is unbelievable.”

McDowell might also want to add the NASCAR safety experts to his Christmas card list this year. While it was his Michael Waltrip Racing team that built the car, it was NASCAR’s new car design team and the officials who oversee track safety that laid the groundwork for his survival.

This column has been known to take NASCAR to task at times for safety issues. As for this week, all we can say is ‘Great Job!’ to those individuals who work to make NASCAR racing safer. Thanks to their efforts, Michael McDowell is still with us today.

Texas Two-Step

McDowell’s crash was easily the most exhilarating moment of the weekend as both the NASCAR Nationwide and Cup races were somewhat snoozers. Regardless of what car NASCAR put on the track – the old Nationwide model or the new Cup COT – there was very little passing and side-by-side racing was for the most part non-existent at Texas.

Kyle Bush won Saturday’s snoozer leading more than half of the race including all but four of the final 110 circuits. On Sunday, Carl Edwards held the point in all but three of the final 129 laps en route to victory in the Samsung 500.

After Sunday’s Cup race, several drivers complained about the inability to run side-by-side and pass.

“Did you enjoy the race today?” quizzed Jimmie Johnson, who finished second in Sunday’s Cup event. “That’s the ultimate judge of it. We’re all afraid to run side-by-side and you can only get so close to the guy in front of you. And we just sit there in a safe spot and ride because you can’t go anywhere.”

When told of the comments, Edwards quickly made his thoughts known.

“I’ve heard people say that the races are boring, and people always want something to complain about,” Edwards stated. “The cars have 900 horsepower and go 200 miles an hour, and the track is slippery and the tires are slippery and that’s the spectacle. And that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be easy for everyone. It’s not supposed to be driving down the Interstate. I’m tired of hearing people complain. The media make up stories about how horrible it is and stuff. This is auto racing. There are going to be people that are faster.”

Edwards’ ‘shut up and drive’ statement is a true point – you have to drive the cars no matter what challenges they, or the track, present. We’re totally agreed there.

Then again, if the races aren’t exciting, it doesn’t mean that a family of four has to spend more than $1,000 on a weekend of travel, lodging, tickets, food and souvenirs to watch it. While the races at Texas this weekend were more palatable than the real stinkers from Atlanta a few weeks ago, it’s clear NASCAR has some competition issues to work out when all three of its top divisions compete on the mile and a half ‘cookie cutter’ tracks that dominate the schedule.

NASCAR definitely has the crash safety thing going in the right direction, Now, if they could get the races to be more competitive, we’d really have something.

Gordon Haters Rejoice

Sunday was a big day for all the Jeff Gordon haters. You know the ones – those who stand up in the crowd at the track and shout the most profane things and make the most inane gestures at Gordon and his No. 24 car from the time they enter the raceway until they leave.

Anyway, Jeffy was totally out to lunch Sunday running 30th or worse most of the race before crashing out on Lap 124 finishing 43rd.

The last-place finish was only the second time in 516 career starts that Gordon came home shotgun on the field. Ironically, the only other time that happened was at Texas in 1999.

Enjoy it to the fullest, Gordon haters. Do something special to celebrate. Go outside, give your neigbor the finger. This doesn’t happen very often.

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