DOES MPH MATTER?
For all intents and purposes, NASCAR’s
pursuit of ever-higher speeds ended
abruptly and permanently on May 3,
1987, at Talladega Superspeedway, Ala.
On Lap 22 of the Winston 500, Bobby
Allison had just come onto the frontstretch
when he suffered a cut rear tire after the
engine let go in his Buick. The car turned
around backward, then got airborne. Once
it was up in the air, it ripped down nearly
1,000ft of catchfence, injuring a handful
of spectators, though none seriously.
The fact that Allison’s car didn’t go into
the grandstand was proof that either the
track’s catchfence and cabling system
worked exactly as intended – or it was just
sheer good fortune that the impact didn’t
cause a catastrophic loss of life.
“When you see a car disintegrate like
Bobby’s did, it’s really scary,” said Jeff
Hammond, who at the time was the crew
chief for Terry Labonte’s Junior Johnson-
owned Chevrolet. “When you see fans, not
knowing if they’re OK, it makes you realize
that speed does come with a price.”
NASCAR knew it had to slow the cars
down right away and it acted immediately.
By the time the series returned to
the track later that year,
WHEN FAST IS TOO FAST
horsepower-robbing restrictor plates to cut
air-fuel flow into the engine were mandated.
Restrictor-plates have been used at
Daytona and Talladega ever since, and
NASCAR has no plans to let speeds go much
above 200mph again for safety reasons.
Still, the racing at Talladega remains
controversial. In 2009, Carl Edwards
wound up in the fence after contact with
Brad Keselowski when both drivers were
racing for the win. Afterwards, veteran
motorsports journalist David Poole of the
Charlotte Observer was incensed.
“It was crazy – and I mean that word
literally – to ever let things get to a point
where Bill Elliott could run 215 mph here,”
Poole wrote following the ’09 Talladega race.
“It was crazy to react to Bobby Allison’s
wreck into the fence – one that looked
entirely too much like the wreck Carl Edwards
had here Sunday for the comfort of anybody
with good sense – by trying to write rules and
change the cars to make this place safe. It’s
crazy to ask drivers to participate in the kind
of racing that goes on at Talladega today,
and it’s crazy for them to willingly do so.”
Tragically, just two days later, Poole died
of a sudden heart attack.
They still race twice a year at Talladega...
Bobby Allison’s fence-shredding 1987 Talladega crash was NASCAR’s wake-up call on superspeedway speeds.
The aftermath of Bobby Allison’s 1987
Talladega wreck. After a 2h26m delay for
repairs, his son, Davey, would go on to win
a race shortened 10 laps due to darkness.
In April, Bill Elliott ran a 212.809mph lap at
Talladega – still NASCAR’s all-time record.
Even with restrictor plates, getting airborne
at Talladega is still an occupational risk.
1987: ONE CRAZY-FAST YEAR
2009: CARL’S WILD RIDE