Meeting McClure | After dramatic crash, spotlight falls on driver from racing family
By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
Among the upsides to Eric McClure’s frightening crash at the end of the May 5 Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway is that the NASCAR world was finally introduced to McClure, and vice versa.
McClure, whose family once owned and operated the Morgan-McClure race team that competed in the Sprint Cup Series until 2008, grew up working around the team shop, but he didn’t pursue driving until after graduating with a mass communications degree from Emory and Henry College in 2000. His mother was a schoolteacher and insisted that education come before racing.
After working his way through the short tracks around his Chilhowie, Va., home he moved to NASCAR’s elite divisions in 2003. Since then, he’s made 179 Nationwide Series starts and three in Sprint Cup. He’s run full-time in Nationwide since 2007, but he’s never had a top-10 finish and never received much attention until he slammed into the wall at Talladega and was cut from his car and airlifted to a Birmingham hospital.
Last week at Darlington Raceway, just six days after a crash that could have taken his life in the era before HANS devices and SAFER barriers, he made his first appearance at a track media center, something usually reserved for those who win poles or finish among the top three in races.
“The first thing I need to say is that when I started racing, I always dreamed about having this opportunity to be in [the media center] under different circumstances,” said McClure, a 33-year-old father of four. “It hasn’t panned out that way.”
Not surprisingly, his next comments were words of thanks for the safety personnel and the safety features on the cars and tracks, features that became commonplace after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash at Daytona in 2001.
“I’m thankful to be here, and certainly very thankful for the safety initiatives and everything NASCAR’s put on display over the years – certainly, firsthand experience – very grateful for that,” he said. “I would just like to say thank you to everyone.”
He said he’d received lots of calls from fans and fellow drivers concerned about his well-being, following a crash that left him with little memory of the impact and the events that followed.
“I remember bits and pieces of everything,” he said. “It’s very spotty at times after the impact. I just remember being really excited. We were in a good position, and I felt like I had an opportunity for our first top-10, and we were just in a pack there.”
He said he saw smoke ahead of him and stepped on the brake pedal, only to feel it go to the floor.
“The brakes were not there,” he said. “At that point, I just remember getting hit by someone and going toward the wall. At that point, I just braced for impact, and that’s really all I remember until after the accident.”
He said the main injury he suffered is internal bruising, which kept him out of the car at Darlington. He’ll work with NASCAR and a team of doctors to determine when it’s OK for him to resume racing.
“Once they feel that I’m cleared to get back in the race car and, that I’m ready to get back in the car, then I look forward to doing that,” he said.
“We’re definitely preparing the best we can to do that as soon as possible.”
McClure said the crash and his hospital stay did have an emotional effect on him and his young family.
“I was able to see them Saturday night [after the crash], and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect our oldest daughter just a little bit,” he said.
“Fortunately, they didn’t see the accident. They were at the track, but they did not see it live.”
He said that it helped that his wife is a nurse and was familiar with hospital procedures, but it was still a tough time for the family.
“I hate for them to go through anything like that, but I will keep most of it private, but there were times with the family when things died down at the hospital that made me understand how loved I was by them and made me very thankful that I had a family like that,” he said. “This week, it’s been good.”
McClure closed his remarks by saying he appreciated being able to come to the media center and see how that part of the sport works, and he said there were other positives too.
“There have been some good things to come out of everything this week,” he said. “I got to meet Jeff Gordon and that was really cool.
“I’ve never got to do that in the five years I’ve done this. And growing up with Morgan-McClure and watching him revolutionize the sport was kind of cool. So, evidently a lot of people have paid attention to this. … We’ll push through it the best we can and get back as soon as possible.”