Who remembers this wild motorsports moment at the 1986 Winston 500? A NASCAR fan stole the pace car just before the race began, and took it for a few joy ride laps around Talladega Superspeedway, before officials finally stopped him. This was one of the stranger things to happen at a NASCAR race, but luckily it was all caught on the broadcast.
This was a bit bizarre to say the least, but there’s actually a somewhat interesting story behind the whole thing. While it may seem like this was just a rowdy fan having some fun, it was actually the result of a man who had a lot of stress in his life, wasn’t thinking clearly, and made a few poor choices.
WATCH: NASCAR Fan Steals Pace Car at Talladega
20-year-old Darren Crowder was the man who would later find himself behind the wheel of the pace car, but he started his day out quite differently. Crowder was a married father of one, and his wife was battling cancer. He decided to purchase a motorcycle, because it was cheaper than a car, and on this particular Sunday morning, he made a trip from Birmingham to Lincoln, Alabama to go look at a bike he wanted to buy. While he took the bike out for a test drive, he ended up taking a little bit of a detour.
Now, Talladega Superspeedway wasn’t far from Lincoln, so Crowder ended up getting stuck in traffic among those attending the stock car racing event. Even despite not having a shirt on, he followed the line of cars to the race track, and somehow managed to slip through all the way into the infield without being asked for a ticket. Seeing as it was a great spot to watch, he decided to stay there for the race.
Dillard Munford was the Grand Marshal of this race, and Larry Balewski was supposed to be piloting the Pontiac Trans Am pace car. At least, that was the plan. As Munford stood on the start/finish line to tell the drivers to start their engines, Crowder saw an opportunity and didn’t think twice. He hopped two fences, and bolted toward the pace car, which had the keys inside. Before anyone knew what was happening, Crowder took off in the car, nearly hitting a few people on the track in the process. He even managed to do a complete a lap doing 100 MPH down the backstretch, before the officials were even notified.
By the time Crowder finished his first lap, police cars and motorcycles jumped into action. They decided to set up a roadblock in turn four to put an end to the joy ride. Amazingly, the whole event was televised, and you can hear the announcers talking about the craziness in the clip above. Crowder decided to give up peacefully and stopped in front of the roadblock. Shortly after, he was removed from the vehicle and arrested. You can hear cheering from the grandstands as they get the situation under control.
Crowder was taken to Talladega County Jail and held on a $10,000 bond. As if facing charges for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, resisting arrest, grand theft, and attempted assault wasn’t enough, it was also rumored that he attacked another inmate with a boot while in jail. He was later transferred to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. There’s not much word about what happened past this point, but no jail sentences were ever reported for him regarding the pace car incident.
I think it’s safe to assume Crowder wasn’t thinking very clearly at this time. He was under immense stress with everything going on in his life, and he made a pretty bad choice. Regardless, it still goes down as one of the wildest things to happen at Talladega.