Dale Earnhardt scraped plenty of paint off rival drivers' cars while barreling toward the front of his 676 Winston Cup races, and he had several crashes that were more frightening-looking than the one that took his life. Yet none of those earlier accidents slowed the Intimidator for long.
Earnhardt, then a 25-year-old making his second Grand National start, flips his Chevy five times on Lap 271 of the Dixie 500 at Atlanta International Speedway. Although some observers call the crash the scariest accident in the track's 17-year history, Earnhardt walks away with only a minor cut on his hand.
While leading the Coca-Cola 500 at Pocono International Speedway, Earnhardt smacks the wall and fractures both collarbones. "The doctor in charge told me that judging from the way my collarbones were broken, it was an act of God my neck wasn't broken, too," he says later. Earnhardt misses the next four races but returns to win Rookie of the Year honors.
Sterling Marlin bumps Earnhardt as the two battle for the lead in Turn 1 on Lap 117 of the DieHard 500 at Talladega. Earnhardt's car careens into the wall before flipping on its side. Three cars hit the Monte Carlo's roof. Earnhardt, suffering from a fractured sternum and broken left collarbone, walks to the ambulance under his own power. Two weeks later he wins the pole for a race at Watkins Glen. On the twisting road course, which requires more turning and gear shifting than a speedway, he occasionally steers solely with his painful left arm.
Trying to hold off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon for second place with 11 laps left in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt's Chevy skates sideways, hits the wall and goes airborne, flipping several times. Minutes later Earnhardt climbs out of an ambulance when he realizes his car still has all four wheels intact. He pilots his mangled vehicle through the remaining laps to finish 31st and earn 75 Winston Cup points. Gordon wins the race and gets a thumbs-up from Earnhardt for his aggressive driving.
In a bizarre incident Earnhardt starts the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in a semiconscious state. On the first lap his car bumps the wall in the first turn and slams it exiting Turn 2. He slowly circles the track twice after missing the pit road. Earnhardt remembers nothing about the race, and 16 doctors are unable to explain his blackout. He returns to racing the next week in Richmond, and two weeks after that he turns in the first of two consecutive second-place finishes.
Ward Burton taps Earnhardt on Lap 141 of the DieHard 500, sending Earnhardt into Bill Elliott's Ford. Elliott smashes into the wall and rebounds hard into Earnhardt's Chevy, throwing the two cars into a fiery rollover. Earnhardt suffers second-degree burns on his face but does not miss a race.
Earnhardt slides into the wall on Turn 4 of the 23rd lap at the Cracker Barrel 500 in Hampton, Ga. His crew gets the car back on the track after significant repairs, and he finishes 40th. Earnhardt does not appear injured and does not miss a race, but lingering neck pain from the crash leads him to undergo surgery seven months later to remove a ruptured disc.