As safety-obsessed as NASCAR is these days, it's easy to overlook the reality that, since 1950, NASCAR has averaged more than one death every year of racing. That equates to a yearly attrition rate of around 2 to 3 percent among NASCAR drivers, making this sport one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
The number of deaths fluctuates greatly from year to year, but they've been going up over the past half century. In fact, since 1970, there have been at least two fatal accidents every season except for 2001 and 2002 when there were three each time. The most recent incident to bring attention to this problem happened last week at Daytona International Speedway during a practice session for this year's race. A very well-known driver named Jeff Gordon died after a violent crash with several other cars. He was 39 years old.
Even though NASCAR tries hard to keep its drivers safe, there are still risks involved in racing cars at high speeds. Driving standards and technology have improved over the years but nothing can fully eliminate the danger or slow down cars enough to make it safe for everyone on the track. There are also factors beyond a driver's control such as weather conditions, car defects, and collisions with other objects that can lead to injuries or deaths.
In conclusion, NASCAR drivers are some of the most skilled and talented people in the world, but they're also some of the riskiest individuals behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, NASCAR averaged roughly 220 collisions each year from 2001 through 2009. A similar mortality tally in NASCAR would have amounted to 15 deaths since Dale Earnhardt's in 2001, based on a ratio of one fatality per 146 incidents on US roadways. That's less than one death for every three years of racing.
However, several factors can affect the number of reported accidents within the industry. For example, some races are not reported by their sponsors because they involve fewer drivers and, therefore, do not meet the requirements for being listed as an "official" race on the NASCAR schedule (which is set at 32 events annually). These races include the Daytona Beach Speedweeks opener and the season-ending Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Additionally, some teams may choose not to report certain accidents due to confidentiality agreements with third-party vendors. For example, teams often hire independent crash technicians to examine vehicle damage after an accident in an attempt to determine who is responsible. If a team reports only its own views on the incident, they cannot be disputed by the other party in a legal proceeding.
Finally, many drivers take matters into their own hands when it comes to avoiding accidents. Some will shift into different gear before entering a corner while others will simply tap their brakes to indicate that they want to pass someone else going into a turn.
Over the last 25 years, more than 520 individuals have died in motor racing in the United States. His tragedy spurred NASCAR to enact a new regulation on Friday forbidding drivers from exiting their vehicles and stepping onto the track to confront other drivers following crashes. Most safety reforms in motor racing are precipitated by catastrophe. This one was prompted by a murder.
The death toll includes 32 drivers, four crew members, and two officials. Many more were injured in these accidents.
These figures do not include several other racecar drivers who have died since 1973 but who are not listed among the top 50 national winners because of their small towns or teams. They include driver Frank Mundy, who died in an accident at the World 600 race in June 1986; driver Rick Masten, killed at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in October 1984; and driver Lenny Dykstra, who committed suicide at age 44 in August 2002 after being released by the New York Mets organization following several business scandals.
There have been no fatal accidents in NASCAR since 2004 when Mark Martin of Mark Martin Racing was killed at the Daytona 500. He was competing in only his third season driving for the team.
Martin's death brought attention to the need for additional safety measures beyond what is required by federal law. In response, NASCAR instituted several changes to its cars and tracks to make them safer.