It’s been 15 years since fourth-generation racer Adam Petty died during a practice session for the Busch 200. While there were two fatal crashes that year, there are relatively few fatal crashes for a sport that can see speeds cross over 200 miles per hour. The map below shows all fatalities during practice or competition since NASCAR started in 1948. You can group by year, event, circuit, series, and the activity during the crash (such as qualifying or practice).
View NASCAR Fatal Crashes in a full screen map
Adam Petty was the son of Kyle Petty, grandson Richard Petty, and great-grandson of NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty. The youngest Petty was just 19 when he died at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That circuit, or race track, suffered one other fatality, later in 2000 when Kenny Irwin, Jr., crashed at the same turn as Petty had earlier. Both men suffered a basilar skull fracture. Other than Irwin and Petty, no other racer has died at this circuit.
Daytona International Speedway has seen the most fatal crashes. Famous for the Daytona 500, the circuit also hosts many other events, the most likely reason 14 drivers have lost their lives there. The first was in 1961, the most recent was Dale Earnhardt at the 2001 Daytona 500.
NASCAR as a whole has not had a driving death since 2009, which puts it at over half a decade. The sport has become undeniably safer. The 1950s saw 17 fatalities, and there were 10 in the 1960s. The 1970s saw a dip, with only six, but the 1980s are the second-most dangerous decade with 14 fatal crashes. There were 11 in the 1990s and nine in the 2000s.
The most fatal year was 1956, with five deaths.
The most common time for a fatal crash, unsurprisingly, is during a race. Over half of all fatalities (46) have come during competition, when the track is often crowded and the event is on the line. Practice (11) and Qualifying (8) come next. Only three drivers have died during testing, two in the 60s.
Of course, driving fast is a risky business, but also one increasingly focused on safety. To prevent basilar skull fracture, NASCAR and other motor sports now require drivers to wear head and neck restraints. With luck and further innovations, perhaps there will be very few additional drivers added to this map.