NASCAR’s Irvan Injured in Crash : Motor racing: Driver is in critical condition with head and lung injuries after hitting the wall during practice at the Michigan International Speedway.
Ernie Irvan, one of the most consistent performers in NASCAR’s elite Winston Cup series, was in critical condition and on life support Saturday after a crash at Michigan International Speedway.
The 35-year-old Irvan, a native of Salinas, Calif., hit the wall nearly head-on at the exit to Turn 2 on the two-mile, high-banked oval during practice for today’s GM Goodwrench Dealers 400. Witnesses said the accident apparently was caused by a cut tire on the right-front of the Ford Thunderbird.
Irvan, who had been running laps at 176 m.p.h, suffered multiple injuries, the most severe a fractured skull and collapsed lungs, and remained on life support systems at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti. He was transported by helicopter to the hospital minutes after the early morning crash.
Irvan joined Robert Yates Racing last September as the full-time replacement for Davey Allison, who was killed in July of 1993 in a helicopter accident. That was the second major blow of last season for NASCAR, which also lost 1992 Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki in the crash of a private plane in April.
The 1994 season then got off to a tragic start in February at Daytona with the deaths of veteran Neil Bonnett and rookie Rodney Orr in separate crashes during practice for the Daytona 500.
But, in the ensuing 20 events this season, there had been no other serious injuries until Irvan’s crash on Saturday.
The last bad accident at Michigan International Speedway was in August of 1992 when Clifford Allison, Davey’s younger brother, was fatally injured in a crash during practice for a Busch Grand National race. He is the only racing fatality at Michigan since the track opened in October of 1968.
Errol Erlandson, the trauma surgeon on duty at the hospital when Irvan arrived, described the NASCAR driver’s most severe injuries during a midafternoon news conference.
“He has sustained injury to the head, including a fracture of the skull which has resulted . . . in swelling of the brain throughout all areas of the brain, including the brain stem,” Erlandson said.
“Second, his severest injuries seem to involve the lungs. Although he has very little evidence of external injury to the chest or chest wall, his lungs have been severely bruised (and) are accumulating a lot of fluid. He is requiring full respiratory support with a ventilator.
“At the present time, he is being evaluated and treated by a full team, including a neurosurgical specialist, a pulmonary specialist. He is receiving minute-to-minute monitoring. . . . He is not alert at this time.”
Asked to assess Irvan’s chances of survival, Erlandson said, “He has received some severe injuries to two major systems, either one of which in their severity as assessed at this time could be fatal. In this business, I believe the prognosis cannot be stated. . . . We trust with minute-to-minute . . . support, the best outcome will occur. I cannot predict.”
Irvan was followed to the hospital by his wife, Kim, car owner Yates and crew chief Larry McReynolds, all of whom were at the track when the accident occurred.
Since buying out the remaining year and a half of his contract with Morgan-McClure Racing for a reported $400,000 in order to move to Yates’ black No. 28, Irvan has won five of 29 starts and has 21 top-10 finishes.
He has been among the most consistent competitors this season, finishing in the top 10 in 15 of 20 races and in the top five 14 times. Coming into the weekend, Irvan trailed Winston Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt by only 27 points.
Irvan has led the points for 13 of the 20 race weeks this season, most recently losing the lead to Earnhardt after a 17th-place finish three weeks ago in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. In that race, Irvan was battling eventual winner Jeff Gordon for the lead when he was slowed by a flat tire with five laps remaining.
Last week, Irvan finished second to Mark Martin at Watkins Glen. On Friday, he qualified 19th for today’s race. The Yates team was expected to withdraw. Irvan began his Winston Cup career with five starts for D.K. Ulrich in 1987. He continued driving for Ulrich the next two season, then, after three races with Junie Donlavey at the start of the 1990 season, joined Morgan-McClure.