Romain Grosjean has been in the news a lot lately because he’s left F1 for IndyCar in 2021 after surviving a fiery accident in Bahrain last November. The most often-used phrase to describe his accident is that the French driver escaped a “near fatal” crash on the opening lap when his car was cut in two by a faulty guardrail.
Now it’s obviously great that he was able to jump out of his burning car and emerge with only second-degree burns on his hands and has no lingering affects that would prevent him from continuing his career. And had a few of his cards fallen differently, it might have been a far more serious outcome. But as it was, it was more of a close call than anything near fatal.
The fact he was able to remain conscious and wasn’t trapped in his car means Dale Coyne’s newest driver may have briefly glanced at the Grim Reaper, but never got in his grasp. This isn’t to say he’s not brave to get back into action, but rather that his accident was more spectacular – much like Mark Blundell’s in the CART race at Rio back in 1996 – than damaging.
And to borrow one of AJ’s favorite phrases, was it really “death threatenin’?” Not when you compare it to these guys.
NIKI LAUDA: The three-time F1 champion nearly met his maker in 1976 at the German Grand Prix when his Ferrari crashed and exploded. The trapped Lauda was rescued by four fellow drivers, but suffered third degree burns to his head and inhaled hot toxic gases into his lungs. He lapsed into a coma and was given last rites, but was back on the grid six weeks later at Monza and finished fourth – finally losing the title to James Hunt in the last race.
ALEX ZANARDI: The two-time CART champion lost both legs and most his blood in a gruesome, high-speed crash at Germany’s Euro Speedway in 2001. Dr. Terry Trammell stopped the bleeding by making tourniquets out of the belts belonging to his safety team, and Dr. Steve Olvey ordered that he be helicoptered to Berlin instead of nearby Dresden after using a defibrillator to get his heart restarted. It was touch and go whether he would make it after losing 75 percent of his blood, but he lived to race on in touring cars using hand controls.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: The Canadian was impaled by a piece of suspension in 2015 at Indy after crashing during practice, and without the quick response of the IndyCar safety team, IMS doctors and Methodist Hospital, he’d have bled to death. Hinch came back to capture the pole at Indy the next May, won Long Beach in 2017 and is still peddling in the NTT IndyCar series.
ERNIE IRVAN: Crashed hard at MIS during NASCAR practice in 1994 and was in danger of drowning in his own blood before Dr. John Maino performed emergency tracheotomy in the car with a pocket knife. Irvan suffered traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, chest injuries and was given a 10 percent chance to survive. After being on a ventilator for a month, he gradually began coming around and was back racing in the fall of 1995. He scored his final Cup victory in 1997 – at MIS.
LEE KUNZMAN: Suffered a broken neck, right arm, wrist and third-degree burns in a 1970 sprint car accident that left his burning car entangled in the fence. He somehow crawled out and a year later won his comeback race in a midget at Cincinnati. A violent 1974 testing crash at Ontario left him unable to walk or talk due to a severe head injury. He also swallowed his tongue, and fellow driver Jimmy Caruthers rescued his pal when he saw his was turning blue. It took two full years to recover but Kunzman finished seventh in the 1977 Indianapolis 500 and damn near won Atlanta in 1979.
ROBERTO GUERRERO: His ascending IndyCar career was temporarily halted in 1987 with a critical head injury while testing at IMS. That put him in a coma for 17 days ,but he miraculously woke up without any significant problems and came back strong to run second in the 1988 opener at Phoenix. He also won the pole at Indy in 1992, and raced Indy cars until 2001.
PANCHO CARTER: Was nearly broken in half on the armo/wooden post guardrail at Phoenix in 1977 during a test when the suspension broke. His pelvis was shattered, along,with both arms and legs, and he lost a tremendous amount of blood. Six months later he strapped on a sprint car at IRP and won the main event using a special throttle he could only push down on. He repeated his triumph the next day on the high banks at Winchester.
MEL KENYON: Knocked unconscious in a Champ Car race at Langhorne in 1965, the perennial USAC midget champ would have burned to death without the heroics of fellow driver Joe Leonard and two fans that jumped over the infield fence and helped pull him to safety. It burned all the fingers off Mel’s left hand, but didn’t stop him from racing and he was in the Indy 500 starting lineup in 1966 (where he finished fifth) using a special glove/socket to steer.
JIM HURTUBISE: Locked in a three-way duel for the lead with Rodger Ward and A.J. Foyt at Milwaukee in 1964, Herk ran over Ward’s disabled car and smashed into the front stretch wall. He was knocked out and his beloved roadster was engulfed in a gasoline fire that badly burned his face and both hands. He was 50/50 to survive, but he did, and had steel pins put in his hands so they would be permanently bent to fit around a steering wheel. He ran fourth in March of 1965 at Phoenix.
CHIP GANASSI: The 1982 rookie-of-the-year at Indy suffered critical head injuries in a violent accident at Michigan in 1984, but gradually the swelling his brain subsided and he made a full recovery. And he did so in time to qualify at Indy in 1985.
MIKHAIL ALESHIN: The Russian’s crash at Fontana in 2014 left him with broken ribs, clavicle, concussion and chest injuries, but he also suffered an internal issue that sometimes can be fatal.
A.J. FOYT: Yep he’s been burned, broken, run over and attacked by killer bees, snakes and a lion, but his closest call came in 1965 in a NASCAR race at Riverside. And credit Parnelli Jones with the save. Foyt’s brakes failed and he flipped down an embankment to keep from hitting other competitors. He wasn’t breathing when the doctor got to him and was already blue, so everybody assumed he was dead. But Rufus, who had run down to the scene of the crash, saw some movement, opened his mouth and began scraping out all the dirt and mud, and Tex started breathing again.