The series was known for the massive inexperience of its drivers, most of whom were short track drivers in divisions such as the Whelen All-American Series. The series was created to give short track drivers experience on large speedways, mostly Charlotte Motor Speedway. The result was terrible. What would normally be one car spinning in the cup, or a two car crash in ARCA, would often be a 6 car pile-up in the Sportsman Series.
It was also known for how inexpensive it was. Drivers in the NASCAR Sportsman Division could run the series for just about the cost for a weekly short track. The drivers often used former Winston Cup (now Monster Energy Cup Series) and Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) cars with reduced horsepower, which made the cars very slow. At Pocono International Raceway, the average qualifying speeds were about 164 for the cup, 158 for ARCA, and 142 for the Sportsman.
History[edit | edit source]
The series had its first fatality in 1990. During practice, driver David Gaines along with 2 other drivers spun coming off turn 4. Driver Steve McEachern was unable to avoid Gaines, and struck Gaines' car, killing him. McEachern flipped several times before landing in the grass.
1991 brought more trouble. During a race at Charlotte that year in May, driver Ed Gartner, Jr. was T-boned by Tom D'Eath. Gartuner cracked his sternum and fractured his leg, and D'Eath broke his neck. Another severe crash that month took place during a Charlotte qualifying race when Philip Ross spun and slammed into the wall, bursting into flames. Ross got out of the car himself, but not without suffering second-degree burns over 30% of his body. He quit racing that very day.
In 1992, the series was renamed the Igloo Sportsman Challenge and began awarding a championship. 1992 would still bring tragedy however. In the qualifying race for the Winston 100, a few cars spun in front of Neil Connell, Gary Batson, and several others. Neil Connell collided with Batson, pinning him against the wall. The 2 cars caught fire and Connell was able to get out. Batson, however, was stuck against the wall and was unable to get out. Batson suffered burns over more than 80% of his body, and died the next morning. Meanwhile, the Winston 100 was aired live just before the running of what is now known as "One Hot Night", the 1992 All-Star Race. Robbie Faggart would go on to become the champion.
In 1993, Igloo dropped their sponsorship, though the series kept awarding points. 1993 was not subject to any injuries or major wrecks, but it was the subject to many rule changes. The series stopped doing the typical 2-wide restarts, and began starting races single file to improve safety after a big pileup in the second race that season. The next 2 races went caution-free.
In a race in 1994, driver Red Everette was t-boned by Ronnie Sewell. Everette's car burst into flames, and Everette suffered minor face burns. Later that same race, the axle of a wrecked car flew into the pits, injuring 2 pit crew members.
End of the series[edit | edit source]
Until October, 1995 seemed like it would be a repeat of the 1993 season. However, On October 6, 1995, the rain-postponed Winston 100 was run, with 26 year old Russell Phillips on the pole. On lap 37 of the 67 laps scheduled, Phillips was decapitated in what is now remembered as the most horrifying crash in stock car racing history. The series could no longer fight against safety crusaders. After the race held the next day, Humpy Wheeler announced that the series wouldn't be run at Charlotte in 1996, replacing Sportsman events with ARCA events. The other tracks, which hadn't had any major crashes, followed suit.
The series ran occasional races on short tracks in 1996, but now that there were no big tracks to run on, the series had become pointless, and soon enough the series was gone for good and forgotten.
Known tracks[edit | edit source]
- Charlotte Motor Speedway (most races until 1995)
- Pocono Raceway (1991-1995)
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway (until may 1991)
- Richmond Raceway
- A few short tracks
Known drivers[edit | edit source]
Most of the drivers are unknown, but every number from 00-99 was used at least once during the series' run.
|Driver||Car #||Known sponsors||Known years run||Additional Notes|
|Tim Neighbors||0||c. 1994-1995|
|Shot Howard||01||c. 1994-1995|
|Fred Yelinek||02||c. 1989-1993|
|Robert Wooten||05||c. 1994|
|Philip Ross||1||My Tyme||1991||Known for near-fatal crash in 1991|
|Kirk Shelmerdine||3/25||Goodwrench, RJS||1992-1993||Dale Earnhardt's crew chief|
|Dennis Setzer||4||R.L. Brown & Associates||c. 1991-1994|
|Jerry Glanville||8||1992||Atlanta Falcons former head coach|
|Curtis Miller||10||c. 1992-1995|
|Henry Benfield||11||c. 1989-1994|
|Ronnie Sewell||20||c. 1991-1996|
|Glenn Darnell||21||c. 1993-1994||Presumably the oldest sportsman racer|
|John Stroud||26||c. 1992-1994|
|Harry Page||27||c. 1992-1993|
|Mickey Hudspeth||40/26||D&L Tire||c. 1990-1995||Later lost his arm in an ARCA crash|
|Paul Shaver||43||Ballistol||c. 1993-1995|
|Jeff Ninneman||44/16||c. 1991-1995|
|Bubba Urban||46||c. 1993-1995|
|Jason Keller||53||c. 1990-1992|
|Tuck Trentham||54||c. 1992-1995||Still races dirt|
|Russell Phillips||57||Hendrix Office Machines, Mullis Well Drilling, QUESCO||1990, 1993-1995||Death ended the series, victim of the most gruesome crash in NASCAR history|
|Red Everette||60||Red's Grill, Allen Funks||c.1990-1995|
|Shari Minter||61/87||KERR Drugstores, Strader Contractors, Piedmont Deal Centers||c.1990-1996|
|Tom D'Eath||61||1991||Nearly died in 1991 crash|
|Ward Burton||62||c. 1989-1990|
|Rounder Saverance||63/3||c. 1992-1994|
|Danny Sikes||72||Phoenix Construction||1992|
|Jerry Rector||81||Trotter||c. 1990-1995|
|Ed Gartner Jr.||84||c. 1989-1991||Severe injuries in 1991 crash|
|Neil Connell||88||Connell Racing Engines||1992|
|Robbie Faggart||89/8||c. 1990-1992||1992 champion|
|Gary Batson||96||1992||Restaurant owner killed in 1992 crash|
|Lester Lesneski||98||Mullis Well Drilling||c.1992-1995|
|Steven Howard||99/22||Midway Auto Parts||1994-1995||Youngest driver|
|Lee Tissot||99||c. 1989-1993||Still races|