July 7

This Day in History

Automotive

Jul 7, 2000:

Stock car driver Kenny Irwin Jr. dies in crash

On this day in 2000--eight weeks to the day after the fourth-generation NASCAR driver Adam Petty was killed during practice at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire--the driver Kenny Irwin Jr. dies at the same speedway, near the exact same spot, after his car slams into the wall at 150 mph during a practice run.

At 19, Adam Petty was in his second season in the Busch Series and was planning to move to the Winston Cup circuit full time the following year. He finished 40th in his first Winston Cup race in April 2000, three days before the death of his great-grandfather, Lee Petty, a pioneer of NASCAR (the acronym stands for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). On May 12, during a practice session to qualify for the following day's Busch 200 in Loudon, the youngest Petty's car crashed head-on into a wall while traveling at 130 miles per hour. He was airlifted to Concord Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head trauma.

A native of Indianapolois, Indiana, Kenny Irwin Jr. won Rookie of the Year honors for the NASCAR Winston Cup series in 1998, earning one fifth-place finish and four top-10s while driving the famous No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford for the Robert Yates Racing team. (Among the celebrated previous drivers of the No. 28 were Ernie Irvan and Davey Allison.) After Irwin racked up three more top-five finishes in 1999, including third place in the Daytona 500, he Irwin left the Yates organization and joined a team owned by Felix Sabates. In a car sponsored by BellSouth, he ran a total of 17 races, still seeking a win.

On July 7, 2000, the 30-year-old Irwin was killed instantly when his car hit the wall on Turn 3 of the New Hampshire International Speedway; it flipped over and landed on its roof before coming to a halt. As in the case of Petty's crash, speculation as to the cause focused on a stuck accelerator, which would have prevented both drivers from slowing enough to make the turn. As The Chicago Tribune reported, some drivers pointed out that the track was one of the slickest on the NASCAR circuit, with no margin for error on the tight turns. On the other hand, Petty's grandfather, the NASCAR icon Richard Petty, dismissed those charges, attributing the two similar crashes to "circumstances beyond human control...circumstances with the way you stop that thing so quick. Your body just can't stand it."

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