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Remembering Michael McDowell’s terrible crash at Texas in 2008: He walked away with a wave to the crowd (VIDEOS)

Apr 5, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

Michael McDowell (left), with former boss Michael Waltrip. Getty Images

Friday was an anniversary NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Michael McDowell would rather not want to be reminded of, but also one he’ll definitely never forget.

It was six years ago, April 4, 2008, when McDowell, attempting to make only his second Sprint Cup race, was taking a qualifying lap around Texas Motor Speedway.

Everything was going fine until McDowell got loose coming out of turn 1. Just seconds after saying over the team radio that his car was “way too tight,” McDowell lost control of the car and it turned right and head-on into the wall at about 170 mph.

But that was just the beginning of the wildest ride of McDowell’s career. His car then began flipping – an estimated 12 times – before coming to rest in a crumpled heap.

Fortunately, McDowell, who was driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, was able to get out of the car under his own power and walked to the ambulance – albeit a bit woozy as you can tell from the video below. He even waved to the fans after climbing out of his car.

Thankfully, McDowell was uninjured. Clips of McDowell’s wreck were broadcast around the world, and the severity of it, not to mention that he walked away, was a testament to the safety elements NASCAR had installed in both the Car of Tomorrow as well as the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers that unquestionably saved McDowell’s life.

“I feel great, nothing broke,” McDowell said afterward, although he admitted he had a “few little bumps and bruises.”

“I didn’t lose consciousness,” McDowell said. “I felt every roll down the hill.”

The deeply religious McDowell added later, “For me to walk away from that wreck is unbelievable. I’m going to count my blessings tonight and thank God for this opportunity to walk away from that wreck.”

In an ironic twist of fate, the horrific wreck was actually one of the most noteworthy things to happen to McDowell’s career at the time.

He was a rookie Sprint Cup driver and wound up taking a kind of victory tour to a number of media outlets nationwide, including The Ellen Show (second video below), where the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Check out Ellen’s and Michael’s question and answer exchange (about 1:30 into the clip):

Ellen: “You just all of a sudden lost control. What was happening?”

McDowell: “Well, we were in qualifying and the car before me had went out and actually blew an engine, so there was some oil out on the track and I just happened to hit it and lost control and …”

Ellen: “Did you see yourself going into that wall when that happened?”

McDowell: “Oh, I was there the whole time.”

Ellen: “Did you talk to yourself, going, ‘Oh, oh?’”

McDowell: “The first thing I did, was (I said), ‘Oh, oh, this is really going to hurt.’ The second thing was ‘My bosses are definitely not going to be happy with me.’”

McDowell’s wreck remains one of the worst the sport has ever seen. But at the same time, it was one of the best examples of how well NASCAR’s safety initiatives work – and continue to work to this day.

The sport has not lost a driver to death on the racetrack since the late Dale Earnhardt crashed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. worknman24hours - Apr 5, 2014 at 5:37 PM

    Thank you to every person who took the time and effort to make NASCAR racing safer.

    McDowall’s crash is a textbook case of everything working to save a young mans life.

    The path to racing safety is full of people we never get to thank because they work behind the scenes, only for the knowledge that a driver may one day walk away from an accident as bad as this one truly was.

    We see you and we thank you for saving racers lives every race on this terrible day and on every race day today.

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