NASCAR buffs remember Maynard Troyer for a distinction, of sorts, that has never been equaled, and probably never will. It all has to do with what became known as Troyer's Miracle Roll.
No one keeps records on this type of thing, but it is generally conceded that Troyer is the king of the barrel roll—that's when a car in an accident flips over and over repeatedly.
"It was sheer beginner's luck," says Troyer today. "The accident was one in a million—you couldn't set it up or do it again if you tried.... But then, of course, who'd want to?"
It happened on Feb. 14, 1971 in the Daytona 500, which was Troyer's first Grand National race. He was 32 at the time. As Troyer charged into the first turn on the 10th lap at nearly 180 mph, his engine exploded, throwing the car sideways on the steeply banked curve. The '69 Ford then slid toward the apron at a 90-degree angle as it came into Turn 2, landing almost on its side, making a skid impossible.
The wheels "dug in," and over and over the car went, spiraling like a football, skipping like a stone into the infield. It flipped completely over one, two, three...17, 18 times before what was left of it slammed to a stop.
And all this in a matter of seconds.
"It wasn't the impact that got me," says Troyer. "It was the centrifugal force. The doctors told me I had experienced way beyond what a human could be expected to survive."
Troyer suffered little more than a concussion and—here's why it's called the Miracle Roll—just a week later he was out of the hospital. In two months he was racing again. By July 4 he was back at Daytona, in the Firecracker 400, where he finished 14th.
Not everyone was happy to see Troyer racing again. His parents didn't want him to compete anymore, and many of his friends urged against it. "I guess more than a few people thought I was crazy to get back in a race car," says Troyer. "They'd say I cheated death once and I shouldn't push my luck. But I saw things just the opposite."
After the Miracle Roll, Troyer says, he was more confident than ever in a race car. "I figured if I could practically walk away from that, there wasn't much worse that was going to happen to me."