Russell Phillips

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Russell Lee Phillips (March 6, 1969, Mint Hill, North Carolina – October 6, 1995, Concord, North Carolina) was a NASCAR Sportsman Division driver and volunteer firefighter from Charlotte, NC. He was killed in a crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1995.

Death[edit]

The Winston 100 at Charlotte was the 15th racing start for Phillips, whose best finish was 11th and just won his first pole position. The crash occurred on lap 37 of the 67 lap event. Phillips was in 10th place when his Oldsmobile was hit by the car of Steven Howard, who steered high to avoid a two-car spinout. Howard's car forced Phillips' car onto its right side, then smashed it roof-first into the retaining wall. Until 1996, NASCAR cars were not yet required to be equipped with the "Earnhardt bar", a roof-support bar running down the middle of the windshield, designed to prevent fatal roof collapse in roof-first accidents. His roll bars failed to protect the roof; both the roll bars and the roof itself were sheared completely off the car, exposing the interior of the driver compartment and grinding Phillips and the compartment against the wall and fence, killing him instantly. When the vehicle came back down onto the track on its wheels, there was a massive "gaping hole" where the roof was supposed to be.

Phillips, whose body was mutilated by the track's steel catch fence and a caution light fixture at high speed, was both dismembered and decapitated, in what a photographer on-scene described, "as gruesome a wreck as I can ever recall".[1] In video footage taken at the scene of the accident, the first rescuer is initially shown running to the car, then immediately turning away after seeing Phillips' body and realizing the hopelessness of any attempt at resuscitation. The track was littered with car debris, blood, bone, and numerous external and internal body parts, necessitating a complete and lengthy red flag while track officials wearing surgical gloves placed white sheets over various body parts in the vicinity of the crash and hosed down the stands, which were showered with the mess. The driver's head - still in the racing helmet - was found at the entrance of the pit road, and one of his hands was found suspended in the retaining fence, around where the caution light had been. [2][3][4][5]

Changes after the accident[edit]

Phillips' death resulted in a serious debate about roll cage design practices, construction methods and inspection techniques applied to NASCAR Limited Sportsman Division cars.[6] In 1996, a roof reinforcement called the Earnhardt bar was made mandatory on all NASCAR vehicles after Dale Earnhardt was seriously injured in a crash at Talladega in the DieHard 500. Charlotte Motor Speedway also withdrew from the Sportsman Division in 1996, following 3 deaths in 6 years, citing Phillips' death as "the last straw".[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sportsman Driver Killed At Charlotte
  2. ^ Doug Roberson, Newport News Daily Press, Racing-Safety Package Hits Home, 2009
  3. ^ Associated Press, The Item (Sumter, S.C.), Sportsman Driver Dies in Fiery Crash in Winston 100, October 7, 1995
  4. ^ Charlotte Observer, NASCAR Vows to Study Wreck, Sportsman Series, October 8, 1995
  5. ^ Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Auto Racing: The Modern Maverick Independent Team Owner Finch Also Notorious as an Independent Thinker, August 5, 2005
  6. ^ Motorsport Memorial
  7. ^ CHARLOTTE TRACK RED-FLAGS A CRASH-AND-BURN SERIES MARRED BY TRAGEDY FOR YEARS, SPORTSMAN RACES WILL GIVE WAY TO ARCA EVENTS IN '96

External links[edit]