Animal Magnetism: Taking a look at the top five critter-car collisions

It was driver Andy Lally vs. a possum during the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Both came out losers.

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It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes animals can change the course of an automobile race. Andy Lally found that out at about 5 a.m. Sunday morning in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, when he ran over a possum in his Porsche 911 GTS, incurring heavy damage in the process.

Judging by his interview after the incident, Lally obviously had a good sense of humor about what happened. Sometimes animal incidents can be funny, other times not so much.

Here are five of the most significant animal-automobile moments:

CRISTIANO DA MATTA — The most infamous incident involving a race car and an animal occurred on Aug. 3, 2006, during an open Champ Car test at the Road America road course in Wisconsin. There, Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, the 2002 series champion, hit a deer at high speed. The right-front tire of da Matta’s car struck the animal, sending it into the air, where it hit the driver’s head. The Brazilian driver was critically injured and remained hospitalized until Sept. 21 of that year. Although he would later run two sports car races in 2008 and three more in 2011, the incident effectively ended his professional racing career. 

STEPHEN LEICHT — During practice for the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway in 2012, NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year Stephen Leicht was pulling off the track when he struck a groundhog, sending it flying in the air to its untimely demise. Leicht radioed in and told his crew he thought he hit a beaver, but it turned out to be a groundhog.

KEVIN HARVICK — In last September’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, eventual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick called his crew and said he nearly ran over a cat on the track. Brad Keselowski, who was behind Harvick at the time, confirmed there was an animal on the track, but it was a squirrel, not a cat.

BRAD COLEMAN — One of the most bizarre incidents happened in 2009 in Arizona, where NASCAR teams do high-speed, straight-line testing. Brad Coleman was driving a Toyota Camry race car at the Toyota Arizona Proving Grounds when he struck a coyote at about 190 miles per hour. The coyote lost.

JEFF BURTON — Just as he dove low on the frontstretch and made a pass for the lead in the 2008 Brickyard 400, Burton struck and killed not one, but two pigeons. In fact, the birds were pretty much vaporized. It was ugly, to say the least.