History The Earnhardt Connection


1996 DieHard 500
Birmingham, Alabama
August 31, 1997

car1.jpg (17647 bytes)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.

car2.jpg (19155 bytes)Earnhardt's 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 leg.

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 the track.


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 the car."

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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