August 31, 1997
Where have been many milestones in the
driving career of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt. He
passed another one -- the kind which he will not look back on fondly, however -- with the
most violent accident of his 18-year career in the 1996 DieHard 500.
Earnhardt, 45, was involved in a lap-117 accident in which he sustained a fractured left
clavicle (collarbone) and sternum (breast bone). He was held overnight at Carraway
Methodist Medical Center after it was feared he might have bruised his heart, but tests to
that effect were negative. He was discharged Monday after continuous monitoring by a
medical team determined he was fit to leave the facility.
"I feel very fortunate," Earnhardt said. "It is a situation like this
that makes one appreciate the high safety standards required by NASCAR. It also shows you
what a great race car the guys at Richard Childress Racing built."
The accident happened with Earnhardt leading the DieHard 500, followed closely by Ernie
Irvan and Sterling Marlin. As the three cars entered the tri-oval crowded tightly, contact
between them sent Earnhardt into the wall at nearly 190 mph, creating a chain reaction
that took 11 cars out of the race.
machine rolled, and was then struck by the cars of Ward Burton, Robert Pressley and Ken
Schrader. It was only the second time Earnhardt has been on his roof since his rookie
season of 1979, when he missed four races after an accident at Pocono resulted in a broken
With a crowd estimated at 100,000 watching somberly, it took safety crewmen several
minutes to get Earnhardt out of his mangled Monte Carlo. However, he walked to an
ambulance under his own power, clutching his left shoulder.
The grinding 15-car crash red-flagged the event because the accident essentially blocked
In the following race, the third Annual Brickyard 400, Earnhardt had to give up his
seat to RCR driver Mike Skinner during the first caution because of the injuries.
Another race later, in Watkins Glen, Dale Earnhardt turned in an extremely gutsy
performance in setting a Watkins Glen International qualifying record Aug. 9 during
first-round time trials for the Aug. 11 The Bud at the Glen.
The seven-time Winston Cup champion toured the 2.45-mile road course at an average
speed of 120.733 mph while nursing a broken left collarbone and cracked sternum. Earnhardt
suffered the injuries during the July 28 DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
"When you're goin' after something like we were in qualifying, you're focused
on that, and maybe you don't feel the pain as much," Earnhardt said. "As I went
across the line, though, and relaxed, the pain was there. It hurt as soon as I got out of
In that race at Watkins Glen, David Green was scheduled to take over driving duties
for Earnhardt during the first caution. Earnhardt never let it happen. He
stayed in the car the entire race, eventually finishing sixth, despite his injuries.
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