Speedway Sorrow

By Chandler, Liz | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, November/December 2002 | Go to article overview

Speedway Sorrow


Chandler, Liz, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal


FEATURES

Team effort leads to insights on racing fatalities

The death of Russell Phillips was alarming. The 26-year-old youth church director was killed in a race for inexperienced racecar drivers. But it's what happened after the crash that stuck with our sports editor, Gary Schwab - and eventually prompted one of The Charlotte Observer's most significant investigations.

It was 1995. Phillips was leading the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when another car veered into him, flipping his car on its side, and sending it scraping along the catch fence, shearing off the top.

Phillips' death was instant and obvious. Track workers hauled away his body, his car, and washed away his blood.

Then, 33 minutes later, the race was back on.

The callousness of that moment told Schwab something was wrong with racing, an insight that would begin to hit other newsrooms in the years to come. Around the country, sports racing deaths began to make front-page news again and again after even some of the "professionals" lost their lives on the track. Racing's inside story continues to be exposed as journalists uncover more on how the sport is run at all levels, and the true cost of high speeds and ineffective equipment.

Freak deal

We reported the news of Phillips' death and the poorly conceived race for inexperienced drivers. But Schwab remained unsettled. Monday wire briefs about weekend racing deaths across the country increased Schwab's discomfort: So many young men dying, leaving behind wives, children and lives of promise.

Stock car racing hails from The Observer's heartland. It's rooted in the Carolinas' red clay hills, where moonshiners once souped up cars to outrun deputies. It has grown into a huge industry with a Charlotte hub of racing teams, celebrity drivers and a renowned racetrack.

The dark side of racing was a story our newspaper needed to tell.

The story was a hard sell. Death was an expected - and accepted - result of racing at speeds topping 100 mph, some editors and reporters argued. To make it news, you had to answer a seemingly impossible question: How dangerous is racing?

In 1999, tragedy struck again at the Charlotte track: This time three fans were killed when a tire cleared the catch fence. Critics said the accident might have been avoided if Charlotte had raised its 15-foot-fence after a nearly identical wreck in 1998 killed fans at a Michigan speedway.

The moment suggested a chaotic sport that lacked safety standards and regulation.

Schwab lobbied for an investigation. How many drivers and fans die in racing? Could changes make the sport safer? Who's responsible for safety? How many deaths - if any - are acceptable in a sport?

Schwab persuaded me to "do a little checking" into racing safety. Immediately, it was clear that nobody knew how many people die in the sport - not organizers, not government, not insurance companies. So The Observer decided to count the deaths and see what conclusions could be drawn.

We started with our library manager Marion Paynter, who concocted elaborate search terms to scour databases for reports of racing deaths back to 1990. We brought in librarian Sara Klemmer to help compile as much information as possible about each death.

We used obvious - and odd - keywords in our computer searches. "Freak accident" and "freak deal" turned up stories in newspapers and on the Web. Repeatedly, we found new deaths by searching for "racing" and the cliched phrase: "He died doing what he loved."

Many newspapers barely mentioned on-track deaths in their racing coverage, sometimes only reporting low in a story that Saturday night's race "was marred by the death of" some particular racer.

Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001 confirmed - and intensified - our efforts to chronicle racing deaths and the lack of attention to safety at many of America's 1,300 racetracks. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Speedway Sorrow
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.