Intentional wrecking: The paradox

(From left) The wrecked cars of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost lie after their collision at the start of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. Their collision gave Senna the title.


Cooler heads prevail.

Or do they?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the world’s biggest follower of Supercross. Perhaps it was for this reason that I was so shocked to see Chad Reed make such a blatant move last Saturday night as he retaliated against Trey Canard.

Here’s a rider who, as of Tuesday afternoon, has 127,000 likes on Facebook, 262,000 followers on Twitter, and is a multi-time supercross and motocross champion. In other words, he has a pretty good size following and, as a consequence, a huge amount of respect. I can’t help but think he must have lost some of that Saturday.

Or … did he?

We are taught in motor racing that intentionally wrecking others is one of, if not the, most frowned upon act that a competitor can make during a race – not just from the sportsmanship aspect, but the safety side of things too.

Yet when you look at lists of the greatest drivers of all time and the most controversial drivers of all time, surprisingly, they almost match…

Michael Schumacher:

Before you become a seven-time champion, you have to win your first title. If you don’t remember how Schumacher achieved this in 1994, here’s a refresher:

F1 Michael Schumacher & Damon Hill Australia 1994 from sp on Vimeo.

Using the “innocent until proven guilty” clause, you can say that it is impossible to prove that Schumacher was at fault here – he took the racing line as if Damon Hill wasn’t there, and may have not known that he was there.

Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) turns into Jacques Villeneuve’s Williams at the Curva Dry Sack. Jacques went on to take 3rd position and the title.

However, that argument gets a little less credible after Schumacher performed a similar move on Jacques Villeneuve for the title in 1997. This time, Schumacher was disqualified while Villeneuve went on to finish the race and take the title.

Dale Earnhardt:

Granted, Earnhardt never won a championship by taking another driver out, but he did win a race or two with a little help from the chrome horn.

The seven-time legendary NASCAR Cup Series champion was nicknamed “The Intimidator,” for being able to ride up on the back of someone’s car and make them think that he was going to hit them, without actually making any contact. The driver in front would make a mistake under pressure, and Earnhardt would sneak on by cleanly for the win.

However, as Terry Labonte found out in Bristol (not once, but twice mind you), it didn’t always work out that way:

Darrell Waltrip also found this out the hard way in the closing laps at Richmond in 1986 (wreck takes place at 0:54)

Ayrton Senna:

Ayrton Senna felt cheated out of the 1989 Formula One World Championship after he and teammate Alain Prost had made contact during the Japanese Grand Prix. Senna went on to win the race, only to be disqualified and stripped of his win for cutting the chicane after the collision.

In 1990, Senna wanted to ensure that the same wouldn’t happen again.

However, after putting his McLaren on pole position for the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, Senna was directed to start on the dirty side of the grid. The Brazilian felt he was about to be cheated out of a championship again, and so decided to take matters into his own hands heading into the first corner. Alain Prost led into the first turn, and the rest is history:


The idea for writing this article came to me at about 3 a.m. in the morning. I was struggling to sleep wondering, if these three racing legends — Schumacher, Earnhardt and Senna, who shared 17 championships in their respective premiere racing series — engaged in so many controversial collisions, how come we still look up them and respect them?

The best conclusion that I could come to was simple: We don’t.

Chad Reed sounds off after disqualification (VIDEO)

At least … not for these reasons. Sure, we love that they raced as determined and as aggressively as they did, but, in honesty, intentionally wrecking another driver tainted each of their reputations, at least slightly. Fortunately nobody was injured in any of the aforementioned wrecks, and so we remember them all best as being three darn good racing drivers.

However, the outcomes could have easily been different. Carl Edwards learned this the hard way at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2010, when he spun Brad Keselowski, leading the latter to sail into the catchfencing upside-down. The crash was much more violent than we’re sure Edwards would have liked, yet fortunately everyone – Keselowski, the spectators, and the track workers – were OK.

Point is this: There are a lot of laws of physics at work during a wreck in a motor race and – unless your name is Albert Einstein – you can never be entirely sure where all of those pieces are going to go. Motor racing will always be dangerous, crashes will always happen, and drivers will always lose their cool. However, let’s keep the intentional wrecking to a minimum please.