The Big One (NASCAR) - Coining The Phrase

Coining The Phrase

Until the 1990s, massive crashes were referred to as "major," or "terrific" crashes.

By the mid-1990s, competitors and media began taking note of the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega. In 1997, Dale Earnhardt described a final-lap crash at the 1997 Pepsi 400 as "the Big Wreck". News articles began using the term "Big Wreck" to describe such crashes in 1998, and by 1999, its use was widespread. Drivers began to openly admit they were apprehensive of its possibility.

One of the first times the term "The Big One" was used on-air was during the Winston 500 on ESPN Oct 11, 1998. Commentator Bob Jenkins said during the crash on lap 134 "this is the big one we hoped we would not have." One of the first published instances of the term "The Big One," was an Apr 18, 2000, article on about a crash in the DieHard 500. The term was also being used informally by fans on message boards.

During the 2001 Daytona 500 Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip used the term on-air to describe an 18-car crash in the backstretch on lap 173: "It's the big one, gang; it's The Big One. It's what we've all been fearing in this kind of racing is going to happen."

By 2001, the phrase was widely used by competitors, fans, and in print and broadcast media. It soon became standard NASCAR vernacular, and became a retronym to describe past such accidents as well.

The Big One has been the subject of criticism of NASCAR. Some have complained that the sanctioning body, promoters, and media have celebrated the crashes.

By 2009, Talladega Superspeedway marketed itself on the notorious crashes, with a three-pound frankfurter sold at the track called "The Big One".

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