Saturday, August 11, 2018

#JD70: Photos unearthed from 1991 may hold clues to determining the cause of J.D. McDuffie's accident

J.D. McDuffie takes the checkered flag at Watkins Glen, 1990
PHOTO: Charlie Berch
Twenty-seven years ago today, J.D. McDuffie lost his life on the fifth lap of the Budweiser at the Glen. During the research for my book on the subject, I found no evidence of an investigation into the accident by NASCAR. Freedom of Information filings with both the New York State Police and Schuyler County Police also turned up nothing.

The only investigation into the accident I could find was commissioned through investigator Terry Shaw at Automotive Legal Service, Inc. (ALS). ALS examined the car in September 1991, well after it was taken from the Watkins Glen track and driven to the Medford Speed shop in New Jersey. ALS also supplemented their report with an examination of McDuffie’s helmet.

ALS focused their investigation on the cause of the fatal injury, details of which can be found in the book. They did not draw conclusions about the cause of the accident, nor what triggered the sequence of events. ALS cited they were not present at the scene after the accident and obtained no reports about the position of the car, the position of the driver inside the car, the autopsy report, nor anything else derived from the scene itself other than the car.

ALS did, however, take several pictures of the car at Medford, focusing on several points of interest. After obtaining permission to use these pictures, I decided against putting them in the book. Instead, I used them to describe the state of the car in the chapter entitled "Holding Pattern."  Today, in this article, I’ll be sharing some of those photos as a supplement to the book itself.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear what is NOT in this article.

There are no autopsy pictures. There are no photos of McDuffie’s helmet. There are no photos of the driver at all. To my knowledge, none of these 28 pictures contain visible blood.

Instead, these pictures focus on McDuffie's car as it appeared during and after the accident on August 11, 1991, including photos inside the car.

All pictures are hidden behind links (EXHIBIT X) with a description of what they are so they viewer can choose which ones to see at their own discretion.

Reader discretion is strongly advised.

My purpose in sharing these pictures is to further demystify what took place that day at Watkins Glen, and to encourage a discussion that can come even closer to finding out what really happened that day. As I described in the book, it is still unknown what actually started the chain of events that triggered the accident. It’s unclear when or how the left-front wheel came free, and the wheel’s whereabouts are unknown to this day. Perhaps the clues are on this page.


To provide context, I have included a couple pictures of the accident itself with extra attention given to the left-front wheel that came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 1 and EXHIBIT 2 were found in a coffee table book called “Legends of the Track” by Duane Falk. The pictures, taken by Tom Bernhardt show the moment McDuffie left the track, and the moment of impact. In EXHIBIT 1, the loose left-front wheel is above and in front of the car, and appears to have some of the assembly still attached. EXHIBIT 2 reveals how much damage there was to the driver’s side of the car before impact.

EXHIBIT 3, EXHIBIT 4, and EXHIBIT 5 are the first three photos taken on slide film by Charlie Berch, also from the same corner. The left-front wheel is also visible just to the right of McDuffie’s car in EXHIBIT 3. The full sequence of these photos can be found in the book.

EXHIBIT 6 by The Leader, and EXHIBIT 7 by David Stephenson were taken during the red flag as McDuffie’s car was being loaded up onto a flatbed. Again, the damage to the driver’s side of the car is clearly visible.


This next collection of pictures are those taken by ALS.

EXHIBIT 8 is McDuffie’s car on the back of Old Blue in September 1991. The photo is taken from the left-front corner looking back. As you can see, the front valence from EXHIBIT 6 is now missing. Like the left-front wheel, its whereabouts are unknown.

EXHIBIT 9 and EXHIBIT 10 are closer shots of the same left-front corner, looking at where the wheel came off entering Turn 5.

EXHIBIT 11 is a close-up of the end of the lower ball joint mounting for the missing left-front wheel, which is visible at bottom-center in the previous two pictures.

EXHIBIT 12, EXHIBIT 13, and EXHIBIT 14 are closer looks at the suspension inside the exposed left-front corner.

EXHIBIT 15 and EXHIBIT 16 are of the open passenger-side window. The marks on this opening were what ALS believed to be evidence of an object entering the car. EXHIBIT 15 is looking down from the roof toward the bottom edge of the passenger side window, the door numbers visible at bottom-center. EXHIBIT 16 is a close-up of the bottom-right corner of the passenger-side B-post.

EXHIBIT 17 and EXHIBIT 18 are the wrap-around headrest in McDuffie’s car. Marty Burke indicated this part was new at the time of the race, and called attention to slight damage on the leading edge of it.

EXHIBIT 19 and EXHIBIT 20 are both photos of the top of the car, looking from the front and back. Rumors after the accident persisted that something pierced the roof. These photos show the roof bent, but not pierced.

EXHIBIT 21 shows an investigator sitting in McDuffie’s seat. The investigator, who was taller than McDuffie, still has enough headroom, indicating the roll cage held up. The steering wheel, however, has been pulled to the right by the impact.

EXHIBIT 22 and EXHIBIT 23 are the right-front and right-rear wheels, respectively. Despite impacting the tire barrier, both wheels and tires are still intact.

EXHIBIT 24 is the left-rear wheel. Unlike the other side, the rim is bent and the tire is flat.

EXHIBIT 25 and EXHIBIT 26 show the passenger side of McDuffie’s car, looking back from the right-front corner.

EXHIBIT 27 is the right-rear corner of the car. This part of the car was last to strike the tire barrier.

EXHIBIT 28 is the left-rear corner of the car, also looking forward.

Thank you for your support of my book, and of the memory of J.D. McDuffie. Please be respectful to the McDuffie family in any use or discussion of this material.


Mike in Arkansas said...

I’m nothing but a racing fan, no forensic skills. I do remember some things reading through the wreck analysis and autopsy report of Dale Earnhardt’s Sr Looking at the pictures of McDuffies’s unfortunate crash, it looks like his car had rotated counter-clockwise to the cars direction of the slide before impact. The right front slammed the barrier first. Similar to Dale Earnhardt’s fatal accident, instead of the driver being thrown straight forward into the belts (and maybe steering wheel), his body is thrown to the right, past the steering wheel over the shifter.

The car hits the barrier and is stopped, the drivers body is thrown into the belts and stopped, his head continues traveling forward and down until his neck is extended and eventually stops the head/helmet. The is a common cause of the basal skull fracture that many race drivers suffered until the use of the HANS type device became widespread.

In these speeds and these circumstances a basal skull fracture almost always results in instant death for a driver.

I know this doesn’t explain why the wheel came off, but perhaps something like this is what occurred to McDuffie inside the car. God bless his family and friends. RIP JD.

Unknown said...

My understanding was tha a tire from the barricades canes into the car and hit JD causing his death.

denny satracing said...

just a thought or 2...the left side of the car has damage that looks like it was from a concrete wall.....the front of the frame where the upper and lower a frames would be ..shows a solid tire mark at the back of the frame as if the wheel turned all the way to the that point it would bind and stop...the left fender looks to have been ripped as the tire was torn away.....also the left rear rim has a indent on it from a ridge of what i think again was a concrete wall.....if the tire was torn away at that point jd was just a it also possible his injurys were from this impact and not the final tire barrier impact? the a frame is broken at the bolt holes...this also suggests some severe stress...again if he hit a wall the tire could have stopped(as it was jammed against the frame) and applied enough pressure/stress to snap the a could also have launched the car away from the wall at an akward angle....the missing tire and rim etc would help......but like a basket ball,when the tire is pinched into the frame it could have rebounded also sending the car careening in an akward appears the tire is still inflated in the video as it flies off the also appears there were nnot much for brakes being applied....from jd being unconcious? or the brakes failing? as they were damaged as well by the tire( the canister for the master looks to be moved and or damaged in the close ups of the left front) it always struck me as odd that this crash did not look to be such a great impact......after looking over these cinvinced at the very least there was a double impact(1st a wall 2nd the tire berrier)that contributed to ja mcduffies passing

Nascar Fan said...

There is no doubt in my mind what happened. The lower control arm where the ball joint mounts had severe metal failure/fatigue. When the lower ball joint came out it ripped the upper ball joint out with it and the tire came off. Impact with the barrier didn't cause any of this because the right side of the car hit the barrier and the right front tire is still on the car. The pictures show the lower control arm being rusted in the section where the ball joint/sway bar/shock mount and strut rod mount. Don't know if this was taken months after the accident and that is why it is rusted. If it was rusted at the time of the accident, that would cause metal fatigue.

Unknown said...

does anyone know where the car is now? after all these years?

Mike Cesario said...

It was in Texas in unrestored condition just the way it came off the track - I don’t remember the gentleman‘s name or where it was in Texas but at least five or six years ago the car was still available.

AkaRJ said...

I believe NASCAR Fan has it right.
I was an automotive technician for 25 years and the first thing I recognized in the picture of the left front lower control arm is an obvious case of metal fatigue. I suspect at some point the track grounds keeper found the other half of the ball joint mounting boss while he was mowing. The upper control arm was positioned straight up from the mount points. This indicates to me the spindle and wheel traveled upward after the lower ball joint separated from the lower control arm, then wrenched itself free of the upper ball joint prior to the car leaving the racetrack. This would account for the damage, loss of control and loss of brakes.