Ricky Knotts died instantly today when he crashed his Oldsmobile into a retaining wall during qualifying runs for the Daytona 500 stock car race.
Knotts, 28, was traveling more than 100 mph when he hit a car driven by Blackie Wangren on the 15th lap of the second 125-mile qualifying heat for Sunday's race.
Both autos bounced off the retaining wall on the first turn and slid into the infield. Wangren walked away with a cut hand. Knotts was pulled from his car and rushed to the infield infirmary.
"He was killed instantly of massive head injuries. He was dead before they got him here," Dr. Cal Herron said.
"When it first happened, I didn't think it was that bad," said his shocked father and crew chief, Richard Knotts. He stood watching as a black tarp was pulled over the wreckage of Knotts' car.
"He was a good boy. My son is dead," he said. "All he wanted to do was become a Grand National driver."
He said Knotts' only other attempt to finish in a NASCAR race was thwarted last year when he blew an engine during the National 500 at Charlotte.Knotts, who lived in Paw Paw, Mich., had done most of his driving in Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Neil Bonnett and Donnie Allison won the qualifying races.
Bonnett won the first 50-lap race, edging Cale Yarborough by the length of a car hood. Allison held off Richard Petty to win the second race.
In the first race Bonnett grabbed the lead with six laps to go.
A wild multicar crash midway through the race slowed the pace, but Bonnett grabbed the lead 10 laps after the green flag was dropped again and stayed ahead to earn a place in Sunday's 500 lineup.
The second wreck occurred on lap 25 when Gary Baker, driving at the front of a large group well behind the leaders, suddenly went sideways in turn four on Daytona's high-banked oval. The spin caused a chain reaction which sent cars spinning and sliding all over the track and infield area near the entrance to the pit road.
Unofficially, the accident eliminated cars driven by Baker, Kyle Petty -- son of NASCAR star Richard Petty -- Phil Finney and Don Whittington.