Bill Elliot's crew after crash into pit road at 1990 Atlanta Journal 500
George Tiedemann/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

NASCAR Implemented Pit Road Speed Limits After the Tragic Death of a Crew Member in 1990


Advertisement

Considering that average speeds during a NASCAR race can exceed 200 mph, the phrase "NASCAR speed limit" may seem like an oxymoron. But, as it turns out, the stock car racing sanctioning body has been implementing speed limits for more than 30 years, and it all dates back to the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On lap 300 of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, Ricky Rudd headed into pit road to refuel and get new tires. While he was attempting to come to a stop, his brakes locked up, causing his No. 5 Chevy Lumina to slam into the back of Bill Elliott's parked No. 9 Ford Thunderbird. Mike Rich, a crew member from Melling Racing, was changing Elliott's right rear tire at the time when he became pinned under Rudd's car as a result of the collision. He sustained severe head and chest injuries from the accident and died of cardiac arrest minutes later at a local hospital during surgery for his injuries. He was 32.

The following season, NASCAR implemented a number of safety procedures to keep pit crew members safe, one of the most important of these procedures being pit road speed limits. Today, these limits depend largely on track design, so a smaller track like Bristol has a speed limit of 30 mph, while a superspeedway like Talladega has a speed limit of 55 mph.

Now, NASCAR officials aren't clocking speed limits like traffic cops with radar guns. As Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, the author of the book The Physics of NASCAR, explains, officials calculate the average pit road speed limit based on high-level data, and based on these averages, they can determine how fast a car is coming into pit road and dish out penalties if need be. In 2021, 143 of the 204 driver-incurred penalties resulted from speeding on pit road, which was an improvement compared to recent years (over 80% of penalties in 2020 resulted from pit road speeding).

Advertisement

When you look at NASCAR as a whole, pit road speed limits may seem like boring footnotes that go against fans' fondness for high-speed and aggressive racing. But, as with most safety measures that NASCAR has implemented over the years, it is a necessary part of the sport's commitment casualty-free competition. If NASCAR can avoid another tragic Mike Rich incident, then it's definitely a step in the right direction.

NASCAR Speed Limits by Track

Atlanta Motor Speedway

Busy pit road during the 60th annual running of the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on February 24, 2019 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway

Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Bristol Motor Speedway

Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, and Denny Hamlin pit during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway

Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Pit Road: 30 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 35 mph

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

A view of trucks racing at the Canadian Tire Bridge during qualifying at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on September 2, 2017

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Charlotte Motor Speedway Oval

A general view of pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022

Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course

Martin Truex Jr. during a pit stop in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 NASCAR Cup Series playoff race on October 10, 2021 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Circuit of the Americas

Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier exit pit road during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pit Boss 250 at Circuit of The Americas on May 22, 2021

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

Darlington Raceway

The field of cars sit on pit road during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400 on May 07, 2022, at Darlington Raceway

Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

Daytona International Speedway

A general view of pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Pit Road: 55 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 70 mph

Daytona International Speedway Road Course

Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. exit pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2021

Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

Dover International Speedway

Cars are lined up on pit road prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2015

Photo by Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images

Pit Road: 35 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Elkhart Lake's Road America

Chase Elliott pits during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America, June 21, 2014 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Homestead-Miami Speedway

The pace car leads the field off pit road prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, 2020

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course

Joey Logano drives down pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 05, 2020

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Kansas Speedway

Denny Hamlin pulls out of pit road past Jimmie Johnson during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 30, 2007

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Knoxville Speedway

A general view of pit road during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Corn Belt 150 presented by Premier Chevy Dealers at Knoxville Raceway on July 09, 2021

Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Pit Road: 30 mph

Caution Vehicle: 30 mph

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Action along pit road pit during the Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on March 6, 2016, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Photo by Alan Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Martinsville Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. pits as Alex Bowman enters pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on November 01, 2020

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Pit Road: 30 mph

Caution Vehicle: 35 mph

Michigan International Speedway

Cars enter pit road during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 race on August 13, 2017 at Michigan International Speedway

Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 55 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 65 mph

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

The car of Austin Cindric sits in position one on pit road prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rock N Roll Tequila 170 on August 11th, 2018, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pit Road: 35 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Nashville Superspeedway

Denny Hamlin exits pit road during the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26, 2022

Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Cars sit on pit road prior to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 1, 2007

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

Phoenix Raceway

Ryan Newman spins out on pit road during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 13, 2016

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

Pocono Raceway

The field sits on pit road during a rain delay in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at Pocono Raceway on June 6, 2010

Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Pit Road: 55 mph

Caution Vehicle: 70 mph

Richmond Raceway

Austin Cindric exits pit road during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway on September 11, 2021

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Sonoma Raceway

Jimmie Johnson pits during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ToyotaSave Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 24, 2018

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Talladega Superspeedway

Kyle Busch pits during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2020

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pit Road: 55 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 70 mph

Texas Motor Speedway

Kurt Busch races off pit road as Daniel Hemri pits during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on March 31, 2019

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 55 mph

Watkins Glen International

Drivers pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2016

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images

Pit Road: 40 mph

Advertisement

Caution Vehicle: 45 mph

Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway

Drivers pit during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 on July 19, 2008 at Gateway International Raceway

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Pit Road: 45 mph

Caution Vehicle: 50 mph

MORE: Michigan International Speedway, the Fastest Track in NASCAR, Is the Home of Some Incredible Records

Related Videos