The ESPN “30 in 30” Series recently aired “Tim Richmond: To the Limit,” profiling a young Cup Series driver from the mid 1980s who bucked the good-old-boys network on his way to NASCAR stardom. His climb came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with and later died of AIDS at age 34. Having my earliest recollections of auto racing starting around this time, it made me think about how different NASCAR would’ve been if Richmond were still alive. My thoughts then drifted to a number of other tragedies that ultimately changed the face of NASCAR.
What if Rob Moroso didn’t drive drunk? Moroso, the 1989 Busch Series (now Nationwide) champion, was a Cup Series rookie in September 1990. Two days after his 22nd birthday after a race, Moroso was involved in a two-car accident in which both he and the driver of the other car were killed; his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He had earned enough points during the season to be posthumously awarded the Rookie of the Year title for 1990, but we’ll never know what impact he would’ve had on the sport.
What if Alan Kulwicki didn’t get on the plane? Kulwicki won the 1992 Cup Series championship by 10 points over Bill Elliott, quite an accomplishment for an independent owner/driver who turned down a ride from legendary car owner Junior Johnson. He was never able to defend his championship, as a small plane he was on with three others crashed on April 1st, 1993. If Kulwicki could have remained successful, it may have changed the face of ownership in NASCAR, which has moved away from competitive single-car teams in recent years.
What if Davey Allison landed the helicopter at Talladega? The third-place finisher in 1992 was Allison, a second-generation driver whose younger brother, Clifford, died after a practice accident at Michigan in 1992. In July 1993, Allison and family friend Red Farmer took Allison’s new helicopter to Talladega to watch friends Neil and David Bonnett practice for David’s NASCAR debut. Allison crashed the helicopter trying to land in the infield; Farmer survived the crash, but Allison died the next day of his injuries. In the span of a year, NASCAR legend Bobby Allison lost both of his sons, and NASCAR lost part of its future.
What if Dale Earnhardt didn’t hit the wall? Possibly the greatest on-track tragedy NASCAR and auto racing has ever seen, the death of “the Intimidator” was a shock to the system. While his death brought safety to the forefront – along with the addition of the HANS device and safer barriers to NASCAR – this one event changed the face of NASCAR for the last ten seasons. Would he have won an eighth championship? Would Dale Jr. still be at DEI? Would the merging of teams like Ganassi and Earnhardt taken place?
These are not the only tragedies that have changed NASCAR – the deaths of Adam Petty, Tony Roper, Blaise Alexander, and Kenny Irwin also come to mind – but these are questions we’re left pondering after some of NASCAR’s greatest tragedies.
sources: “The Tragic Story of Rob Moroso,” motorsportsweeklynews.com
“The Davey Allison Story,” daveyallison.net