WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 15: David Reutimann crashes the #00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota into the wall after an incident in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen at Watkins Glen International on August 15, 2011 in Watkins Glen, New York. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)
There have been a number of terrible wrecks at Watkins Glen in recent years, including two during Monday's Sprint Cup event. The crashes are conjuring up memories of the track's dangerous reputation from two decades ago and the tragedy that brought changes to the circuit.
Monday's rain-delayed Heluva Good! at the Glen featured two of the worst accidents I've ever seen in two decades of watching stock car racing.
Denny Hamlin's helpless ride at nearly full-speed into the turn-one tire barrier on lap 66 was bad enough. Then came the final lap and the crash between David Ragan and David Reutimann, approximately at 2:08 in this YouTube clip. None of the trio were seriously injured, seemingly by the grace of God only.
These two crashes - as well as Kurt Busch and Paul Menard's wrecks due to left-front tire failures in the same race - are Watkins Glen's latest tests of NASCAR's new safety implementations. Since the sanctioning body's "Car of Tomorrow" went into full-time use in 2008, the picturesque New York road course has been the scene of some of the worst accidents in the sport.
In that 2008 season, Michael McDowell - who provided the COT's first real test that April at Texas - pushed David Gilliland off course exiting the final turn. Gilliland's car slammed into the tire barrier and was launched back into traffic, where this scene ensued.
A similar crash occured during the rain-delayed event one year later. Kasey Kahne pushed Sam Hornish off track exiting turn nine. Hornish slammed the tires and was knocked back into the path of an already-hobbled Jeff Gordon. The wreck was one of the worst in the four-time champion's career, who has found himself one of the COT's crash-test dummies. As he said on the radio after a vicious crash at Richmond this spring, Gordon finds "the worst frickin' places to hit damn walls."
Adding in the scenes that unfolded Monday, and the Glen is rapidly regaining the treacherous reputation it held in the late '80s and early '90s, particularly cause of what is now turn nine. At the time, it was a high-speed right-handed turn at the end of the track's longest straight, and a number of vicious accidents occured in the area as a result. The low-point of the track's NASCAR history occured 20 years ago this past August 11, when veteran independents J.D. McDuffie and Jimmy Means went off course at speed and slammed the fence in the corner. McDuffie was killed instantly, which was the final straw and led to the addition of the backstretch chicane - also known as the inner-loop - before the 1992 race.
Rick Mast's terrifying crash in 1993 and a harrowing crash in a 2000 NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series race by a relative unknown named Jimmie Johnson aside, the track had mostly been spared frightning situations. The recent accidents have served as a reminder that the track - and stock car racing in general - is still dangerous and things can go wrong in a big way in a hurry.