Stephen "Steve" Park (August 23, 1967 - July 28, 2002) was an American professional stock car racing driver. He won races in NASCAR's two top Northeast touring series (Modified and K&N East) along with Busch and Winston Cup.
Park began racing not in an entry-level class, but in NASCAR Modifieds on Long Island as the youngest of four sons of longtime National Modified Championship contender Bob Park. After establishing himself in weekly Modified racing at Riverhead Raceway, he advanced to the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series. He won several races and became a championship contender before moving on to the Busch Series. He had a few wins in the Winston Cup Series until his death at Pocono in 2002.
NASCAR career Edit
Park was first hired by seven time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt in 1996. Initially, Park refused to return Dale's phone messages, who was calling with interest to hire Park, thinking his friends were pranking him. After finally being convinced that the real Dale Earnhardt was calling him, Park made one start in the No. 31 Busch Series car in Charlotte in October that resulted in a 29th-place finish. Park was then given a full-time ride in Dale's No. 3 AC-Delco car for the 1997 Busch Series season where he posted 3 wins and walked away with Rookie of the Year honors.
Park came to the Winston Cup Series as the driver for the No. 14 team of Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) in 1997. He attempted eight races in this car, qualifying for four of them. He also ran a race in the No. 40 car at Martinsville Speedway for Felix Sabates. In the 1998 season, Park switched to the No. 1 Chevrolet for DEI and drove the first two races, but he failed to qualify at the third race of the year at Las Vegas. During practice for the fourth event of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Park suffered a tire failure and had three hard hits before his car came to rest. He sustained a broken leg, broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade, and two chipped front teeth. Park returned later in the year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ran the rest of the year. He posted a best finish of 11th at Michigan and Dover.
In 1999, his first of only two full Sprint Cup seasons, Park finished 30 of 34 races. He went out with handling problems at Daytona and Charlotte, an engine failure at the other Daytona race, and a crash at Sears Point. In the Sears Point crash, Park spun around in turn two and backed into an embankment, thrusting his car up into the air and over onto the top of a tire barrier. Park posted a best finish of sixth in the Kmart 400 at Michigan and finished 14th in the point standings.
During the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Park would grab his first win at his home track of Watkins Glen, winning the 2000 Global Crossing @ The Glen.
In 2001, Park's year began with a frightening note in the Daytona 500, as his car was one of eighteen that were demolished in a pileup on lap 173 that also sent Tony Stewart flipping through the air. Park had led for several laps right before the crash. Although he was uninjured, Park pounded the roof of his car after climbing out.
The following week, Park scored a win for DEI by winning the Dura Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway. The same season, driving in the Busch Series, Park was involved in a crash at Darlington Raceway while driving the No. 31 Chevrolet owned by Ted Marsh. Under caution and still driving on the track, Park's steering wheel came off, causing him to yank a hard left. By complete chance, lap down car Larry Foyt was speeding up to join the lap down line at the same time Park turned. Park was T-boned on the driver's side upon collision with Foyt's car. The severity of the crash caused a massive brain injury as well as several broken ribs. Foyt said that the car was traveling "well over 100 miles per hour." Park was left with noticeably blurry eyes, and slurred speech as a result of the accident and some have theorized that he never fully recovered from his injuries. Park may have cheated death in the wreck, but his luck ran out the following year.
Park missed the first four races in 2002, but he returned to race at the fifth race of the year at Darlington. He had a couple of accidents, however; one of which, at Pocono, claimed the life of Steve Park.
While racing at Pocono Rusty Wallace made contact with Steve Park, hit the wall, and Steve Park went to avoid the crash, but he was already loose. Ricky Craven's #32 Ford clipped him, as he was already sideways, and collected Dale Jr.'s #8, with both cars going full speed into the inside guardrail. Steve Park's car hit the guardrail so hard the guardrail gave way, and Steve's car went up and over said guardrail. Steve Park suffered fatal injuries, and died upon impact from a basilar skull fracture.
In the wake of yet another death from a Basilar Skull Fracture, Nascar looked into its current safety devices and concluded that because Park had modified his HANS device to be looser and fit more comfortably it did not restrain his upper body adequately, leaving just enough force from the impact to be transferred to Park to cause death. After the incident NASCAR banned modifying the HANS or Hutchens devices, and revised both systems for future use. NASCAR also made the COT a top priority do to the amount of fatal crashes from 1999-2002.