SI Vault
Edited by Richard Demak
May 25, 1992
A Fatal Crash
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 25, 1992


View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

A Fatal Crash

The wreck looked relatively mild, and it came at a relatively slow speed. Yet last Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this deceptive crash killed rookie driver Jovy Marcelo, 27, who was practicing for this Sunday's Indy 500.

Marcelo, a native of the Philippines who attended Armstrong College in Berkeley, Calif., had just completed a lap at 172.328 mph when he entered Turn I of the 2.5-mile oval. For reasons unknown, Marcelo's Lola-Cosworth went into a three-quarters spin and skidded 440 feet until the left front of the car hit the wall. The left side of the car then smashed into the wall broadside—in what drivers call a pancake collision—in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2. The car kept sliding until it came to rest in the middle of Turn 2. When rescue crews reached Marcelo, he was unconscious. Twenty-eight minutes later he was pronounced dead at Methodist Hospital from head injuries. Marcelo was the first driver to die at the Speedway since Gordon Smiley hit the wall head-on 10 years to the day before Marcelo's crash.

Rick Mears and Nelson Piquet had survived more violent crashes (SI, May 18) at higher speeds on May 6 and 7, respectively, so the question is, Why did Marcelo die? "It's a little bit of a mystery to everyone involved how such a minor wreck could cause such an injury," said Andreas Leberle, an engineer with the Euromotorsport Racing team, for which Marcelo drove. An autopsy conducted by the Marion County coroner's office discovered that the cause of Marcelo's death was "a blunt force head injury." Leberle said the injury was apparently caused by the impact of Marcelo's helmeted head against the rim of the carbon-fiber protective cocoon that surrounds the driver in an Indy Car. Veteran driver Michael Andretti said the theory from a consensus of track experts was that the sudden deceleration of Marcelo's car had caused the bottom edge of his helmet to catch on the top rim of the cocoon.

But Piquet's car had decelerated suddenly, too, and he escaped without a head injury. Andretti says that he had noticed earlier in the week that Marcelo "sat a bit high" in the cockpit—that is, higher than most drivers. This position may have allowed Marcelo's head to snap farther from side to side.

Marcelo was a stranger to most Indy drivers. He was the 1991 SCCA Toyota Atlantic Series road-racing champion, but his only previous oval-racing experience had been on the one-mile track in Phoenix, where he finished 19th in April. His father, Edward, who was a motorcycle-racing champion in the Philippines, said that it had been his son's "dream to drive in the Indianapolis 500."

There is a rule of thumb in racing that the worse a crash looks, the less severe the injury to the driver. Tragically for Marcelo, and fortunately for Mears and Piquet, the rule proved to be true the past two weeks at Indy.

Impeachable Source
IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch has recently criticized several journalists for portraying him unfairly in books they've written about him. Samaranch certainly knows what it takes to be an objective reporter. From 1943 to '49, Samaranch wrote a regular column about roller hockey for La Vanguardia, a newspaper in Barcelona. He wrote the stories under the pen name Stick, and he often quoted a roller hockey expert named Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Magic Touch
Here are two unsolicited pieces of advice for Orlando Magic general manager Pat Williams, whose team won the NBA draft lottery on Sunday and with it the right to make LSU center Shaquille O'Neal the first pick of next month's draft. First, get a bigger uniform. The Magic jersey with O'Neal's name on it that Williams displayed after the lottery would probably be a better fit for one of the seven dwarfs at nearby Disney World than it would be for the 7'1", 295-pound O'Neal.

Disney World brings us to suggestion number 2: Convince O'Neal that Los Angeles isn't the only place he can earn a ton of endorsement and entertainment money and that Orlando's land of make-believe would open up a world of marketing possibilities for a budding NBA superstar. The educated guess is that although O'Neal and his agent, Los Angeles-based lawyer Leonard Armato, would like to force a Hade to either the Clippers or the Lakers, their minds could be changed if the opportunities for outside earnings were great enough. Coming soon to a theater near you: a remake of Disney's Cinderella starring Shaq and the Magic.

Continue Story
1 2