By: Kobe Lambeth
As the year is winding down, I want to share the scariest moment of 2015. It was the final lap of the 2015 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. Anxiously awaiting the start of a race at the track where we typically see great racing. The race was supposed to start in the early evening, but rain delayed the start until after 11 pm Eastern Standard Time.
Although the race started much later than expected, I was ready to see some exciting racing. I snuggled under the covers of my bed as the green flag waved. Throughout the race, fatigue was a major factor. I constantly sipped on a bottle of water to stay awake. This was the first time that I have ever watched a NASCAR race until 3 o’clock in the morning.
After a long night of trying to stay awake, it was almost time for a Green-White-Checkered finish. At the end of restrictor plate races, I tend to get nervous as the drivers get extremely aggressive. One wrong move and you create a multi-car accident. As the green flag waved for the final time, I began to shake as I wanted every driver to make it back to the checkered flag safe and sound.
Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson led the way. Drivers started jockeying for position going down the backstretch. I did not think that we would make it to the white flag as aggression rose to an all-time high. However, I was shocked to see the Hendrick drivers lead the pack to the white flag. One lap to make it back in one piece or hooked up to the tow truck. This was truly “checkers or wreckers.”
I was so excited watching the tight pack go down the backstretch for the final time as the drivers were trying to make something happen. The pack entered turn four as Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled away from the field. At this point, I knew it would be a great night for Junior Nation. I was not prepared for what happened next.
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line, I saw Denny Hamlin get turned by Kevin Harvick. I screamed, “Oh my gosh, Denny just flew into the fence!!!” As I said this, I remember the words of announcer Rick Allen, “And the Big One happens behind them!” At this time, I was terrified as I did not know what exactly happened. Was Denny going to be okay?
When the television cameras showed the scene of the accident, I was shocked to find out that it was actually Austin Dillon. The Number 3 car was upside down and was absolutely destroyed (understatement). Going through my mind, “Is he alive? Please, no! We cannot lose another driver of the 3 car.”
It was absolutely amazing to see people from multiple teams race onto the track to assist Austin Dillon. Honestly, I was fearing the worst at this point. Dillon’s car hit the fence hard, landed upside down, then one final blow by Brad Keselowski. There was no way that Austin Dillon survived that one.
All of a sudden, crew members pulled Dillon out of the wrecked race car! I was in complete disbelief but happy. He was so lucky to make it out of that terrifying accident alive.
Next, NBC started to show multiple replays. The accident started when Denny Hamlin spun in front of the pack, clipped the front of Dillon’s car, which sent him airborne above rows of cars into the catchfence.
This accident triggered a lot of controversy surrounding safety at the race track. Is there a way to improve the catchfence? What if another car goes airborne after the first car left a giant hole in the fence? I have no idea how you would solve those issues. Danger is a part of racing and there can be severe consequences. You cannot change the fact that motorsports is dangerous.
Austin Dillon’s spectacular crash was the scariest moment of 2015. As we end this year, I hope that we will not see ANY accidents like that in 2016. What did you think of this accident race fans? Is there any way to improve safety at restrictor plate races? Please share other scary moments from the 2015 racing season!