The Talladega Tumble: All the Great Ones Have Experienced It

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer INovember 4, 2009

Twice a year the argument is always the same: get rid of or change Talladega Superspeedway.

Which leaves the president of Talladega Superspeedway saying the same thing: It’s not going to happen.

“We get this question every Monday morning twice a year. No. We’re not going to tear up the banking,” says Rick Humphrey.

“It’s disappointing on Monday morning to hear all the complaints from everybody, but I really don’t know who much it [the race] differed from the last several races we had.”

The reason that Humphrey hears all the complaints is because Talladega has a rich history of sending drivers on some of the wildest and most horrifying accidents.

Many of which see the car go flipping through the air.

After the dust settles and the driver is checked and found to be OK, they then go in front of the camera and talk about how much they hate plate racing. That sentiment is then rehashed for the next week by some media, fans, and drivers alike.

However, instead of getting rid of one of the historical tracks of NASCAR, it should be embraced. Don’t misunderstand, the horrifying accidents shouldn’t be embraced nor should they be wanted.

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Embrace that the accident happened and everyone is fine. 

Then, maybe the accidents should be looked back upon as a “Welcome to Talladega” moment for the driver that were apart of it. Until they’ve gone flipping at the Superspeedway, they've only ever talked about how crazy the racing is.

Some may even consider it a badge of honor, maybe not at the time, but to make the highlight reel later on.

Some of the best in the business have taken the “Talladega Tumble,” and they’ve all ended up coming out stronger in the end or their crash benefited NASCAR in some way.

Take Bobby Allison’s 1987 crash near the start-finish line.

Allison’s car lifted in the air and not only tore the car apart, but took the catch fence with it. His brother Donnie came over to check on Bobby to make sure he was all right. “Yes,” Bobby said. “But you won’t believe the ride I just took.”

NASCAR implemented the restrictor plate after Allison’s crash to keep such an event from happening again.

Not only did the accident happen again, it happened over... and over... and over... and it happened in the same place, over… and over… and over. Just like the car that went over, and over, and over. 

Neil Bonnet got spun around in 1993 in the tri-oval before lifting into the air, flipping on his roof, and then making contact with the catch fence. Just like Allison before him, Bonnet would be able to walk away sore but unhurt.

But the frontstretch fun wasn’t over.

Rewind to earlier this year when Carl Edwards went spinning and flipping into the fence. The same fence that took the beating from Allison and Bonnet’s wrecks all those years ago.

Edwards accident injured fans and angered drivers but he did walk away unhurt.

Others that have gone for a wild ride down the frontstretch or into turn one would be Trevor Boys in 1984. Boys got spun coming off turn four, went spinning toward pit road, and soon was flipping through the infield grass.

He popped right out of his demolished No.48 and seemed to be fine.

That was until he bent over and went to his knees, but only to tie his shoe before heading the care center.

Then there was Rusty Wallace in 1993, which went flying across the finish line and then tumbled into turn one.

He too, walked away.

As did Dale Earnhardt in 1996 after his famous black No.3 went head on into the wall and then flipped toward the start-finish line. Earnhardt did walk away on his own power even though he suffered a broken collarbone.

Two weeks later though, the Intimidator went to Watkins Glen and sat on the pole.

That same year saw Ricky Craven bouncing off poles, cars, fences and everything in between when he went for a tumble in turn one.  Craven was collected, and then sent flipping, after Jeff Gordon made contact with Mark Martin.

In 1998 Bill Elliott wrecked in the same spot that Allison, Bonnet, and Wallace did before him. And just like his fellow competitors before him, he too walked away.

Michael Waltrip took a wild ride in 2005 after Jimmie Johnson turned Elliott Sadler in turn one. Sadler collected all those behind him, including Mark Martin, and when Martin started to slide down the track he clipped Waltrip’s right rear bumper and sent him end-over-end.

“It was pretty cool,” Waltrip said.

“The world was right, then it was wrong, then it was right, then it was wrong. And then I came to a stop and the Aaron’s Dream Machine slide right up beside the Napa Chevy, and I thought ‘this could be a nightmare, I’m not sure’,” he continued.

But no driver is safe in any position in the field or on the track when it comes to Talladega.

The backstretch has seen its share of wild rides and breath taking moments.

July of 1995 will be remembered as the year Ken Schrader went flipping end-over-end and side-over-side coming off turn two and down into the backstretch grass. Jeff Gordon, his teammate at the time, turned Schrader and when he turned backwards and was hit by another car he went airborne.

Same song, different verse and cars during a Nationwide Series race in 2002.

When Scott Riggs got turned he clipped the right rear of Johnny Sauter’s No.2 Chevy, which then went flipping down the backstretch as he was hit by other cars. Sauter and the other 20 drivers that were collected all climbed from their cars and walked away.

Elliott Sadler spent 2003 and 2004 on his roof at Talladega.

In 2003 he went flipping wildly down the backstretch and into turn three, much the same way that Ryan Newman did last Sunday.

Sadler’s M&M’s Ford crunched, but Sadler didn’t.

A year later he flipped once onto his roof and then came back down on his wheels coming to and then crossing the finish line.

But heading into turn three continued to be the trouble spot.

In April of 2007 during a Nationwide Series race, Kyle Busch jumped out from behind leader and teammate Casey Mears and was clipped by Tony Stewart.

The contact sent Busch head on into the wall, flipped him on his roof and then the car began to slide down the track.

As he slid into the grass in turn three, the car began flipping much like Sadler.

The accident couldn’t have fazed Busch much because a year later on the same weekend he came back to the track and won in the Sprint Cup Series.

However, Talladega wasn’t done snacking on Nationwide Series cars.

One day before Carl Edwards went flipping into the fence this past April, many forget that Matt Kenseth went for the same ride Elliott Sadler and Kyle Busch did and in the same spot and same way.

Kenseth was turned from behind by teammate David Ragan.

After flipping, Kenseth was able to climb from the car, throw his gloves and helmet to the ground, and take the ride to the care center were he was evaluated and released.

"I pulled to the bottom, and I saw David there, but I was well clear, and David hit me as I was turning back down—to bump-draft me. You just can't hit somebody when they're turning. The cars aren't stable enough for that."

Edwards went for his wild ride a day later and then Newman and Mark Martin for theirs just this past weekend.

Which meant that everyone was back to criticizing NASCAR, the track, the cars and anything else they could think of. All the while not realizing that it was the drivers blocking and bumping in the areas they were told they were allowed that caused the wrecks.

It was the drivers trying to win a race and gain every position possible that caused these horrifying incidents.

Just remember that it doesn’t matter if it’s Talladega, Daytona, Dover, or Texas.

If a racecar driver gets in their car and a trophy, paycheck, and points are on the line, they’re going to do everything they can to be the one that takes it home.

Change the rules, change the car, change the number of laps in a race, but you’ll always have wrecks.

You’ll always have cars flipping, spinning, and catching on fire.

But instead of trying to stop the unstoppable, take a minute to look back and say “Welcome to the club [insert driver here”].

Welcome to the very elusive club of drivers that have taken the “Talladega Tumble” and lived to yell at NASCAR about it.

And then after that take the Michael Waltrip approach.

After all the drivers have climbed out, walked away and expressed their displeasure, you can re-watch the wreck and say, “it was pretty cool.”

Videos of all the aforementioned wrecks can be found on YouTube.com 


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