To Crash a Race Car

Drivers recall unscheduled flights, and unhappy landings
July 29, 2007

A FEW YEARS ago Marco Andretti, son of Michael Andretti and grandson of open-wheel legend Mario Andretti, had the racing family's version of the birds and the bees talk. "I had the [crash] conversation with Dad before I joined IndyCar," says Marco, 20, whose IRL debut came in 2006. "He said, 'It's going to happen, and it's going to hurt.'" Dad was right: On Sunday, Marco flipped and totaled his car on a turn during the Honda 200 in Lexington, Ohio (above). "[Crashing] is the most helpless feeling," Andretti, who was uninjured, told SI before the wreck. He said he takes his hands off the wheel as a natural reaction: "When you know you're out of control, you might as well." He's not the only pro driver with crashing on the mind.

HELIO CASTRONEVES
IndyCar

When you know you're going to crash
"Imagine going on a roller coaster, and you just see sky. That's the time you're like, Oh, boy, I hope I land in a safe way. I close my eyes and wait until everything has stopped."

Most memorable wreck
During a practice run at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 1998, Castroneves, 32, hit the wall and saw flames. "I don't remember what they were asking me, but [to show his rescuers that he was conscious and all right] I just kept repeating, 'My name is Castroneves. I am here in Miami.'"

After the crash
The day after his first crash, during a prerace warmup, Castroneves (above, in a wreck at Watkins Glen this month) drove hesitantly. "I was very scared, and as I slowed down, it was getting worse." His engineer told him to try to go faster, and "that got me back into my rhythm." Over the years, says Castroneves, mental recovery from a crash has become easier. But the physical recovery? The next day, he says, "you move like a robot. Everything hurts—from your toenails to the last hair on your head."

CARL EDWARDS
NASCAR

When you know you're going to crash
"I'm just going to go as limp as I can and hope for the best.... It hurts really bad if you try to stay tense," says Edwards, 27, who tried tensing up when he crashed at a NASCAR truck race at Dover International Speedway in 2003 and was very sore the next day. "I think about trying to relax and letting the safety equipment do its job."

Most memorable crash
It was Edwards's first big one, during a truck race at Daytona International Speedway in 2003. Edwards was in the lead when his truck slid sideways and the rear went out to the right. He overcorrected and headed straight for the wall. "I was like, 'Holy crap: I'm going to die.' I've never seen a wall come at me that fast."

After the crash
Edwards walked away without severe injuries or bruises—except to his pride. Daytona was his first big chance for Roush Racing (his current employer), and his first postcrash thought was, "I'm going to be fired.'" A big crash can cost a team as much as $100,000—the price of a new vehicle.

SARAH FISHER
IndyCar

When you know you're going to crash
"The biggest thing is to let go of the wheel at the last minute because there's a big likelihood for wrist injuries if you don't. Also, make sure your mouth is closed so you don't bite your tongue."

Most memorable crash
Before a sprint car race at K-C Raceway in Chillicothe, Ohio, when Fisher, now 26, was 16. During practice "my left front hit another car's right rear.... Sprint cars race so close, and when they flip,"—as hers did—"it gets really quiet."

After the crash
"Wait until everyone's calmed down," usually at the end of the day, before discussing with team members what went wrong. "Being emotional never solves anything."

ELLIOTT SADLER
NASCAR

When you know you're going to crash
"I'm a pretty big boy—6'3"—to be a race car driver. So I try to tuck my head." Sadler, 32, also holds on to the steering wheel because "I have to hold on to something."

Most memorable crash
At Talladega Superspeedway in 2003, Sadler skidded across the track, flipping six times (below). "It was almost like being in a ring with a heavyweight boxer," he said of the car's repeated impact with the ground. "When I was flipping, I was thinking, 'Man, will this ever stop?'... I could not believe the amount of sod and grass in the car. It was like I had been gardening for a week."

After the crash
Sadler talks with his team to find out just what happened. "We always talk about what held up inside the driver's compartment and what didn't." Then he tries to get over the frustration: "A lot of the time it's not your fault." But if Sadler does cause another driver to crash, he says he always calls to apologize.

PHOTOGAVIN LAWRENCE/GETTY IMAGES (ANDRETTI CRASH) PHOTOMICHAEL CONROY/AP (ANDRETTI) PHOTOBRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS (FISHER) PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (SADLER) PHOTODAN LIGHTON/AP (SADLER CRASH) PHOTOSAM SHARPE (EDWARDS) PHOTOKATSUMI KASAHARA/AP (CASTRONEVES) PHOTOCHARLIE BERCH/AP (CASTRONEVES CRASH)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)