Steve Park built up a name for himself before his transition into becoming a NASCAR Cup Series driver. Park held plenty of potential to become one of the sport’s next new staple competitors. However, his promising career quickly went off the hinges following a freak accident.
Steve Park’s early NASCAR career rise
Before making the jump to the cup series in 1997, Park build up his resume in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour over 14 years.
During that span, he garnered 16 wins and 23 pole positions, according to Racing-Reference. The bulk of his success came in his final two years with 12 wins and 19 pole positions and back-to-back second-place tour finishes.
Through his first few years in his Cup Series career, he started to find his legs under him as one of the rising drivers. However, things quickly headed south in disappointing fashion in the 2001 season.
Steve Park’s once promising NASCAR career crushed by freak wreck
The 2001 season began on a devastating note with Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s tragic death at the Daytona 500. Park managed his emotions and won the next NASCAR CUP Series race at the 2001 Dura Lube 400 at North Carolina Speedway.
However, Park’s NASCAR career forever changed course a few months later in September during the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
During an interview with Marty Smith of ESPN, he rehashed the incident to the best of his memory. He noted that the cars began an attempt to finish the race after a rain delay, which led to a caution lap.
During this time, Parks recalled doing his typical ritual with the lap to go sign out that involved pulling on his belt and tugging on the steering wheel. However, that’s when things turned south for him that led to a collision with Larry Foyt.
“So under caution, going around the track, when I pulled the steering wheel, it came off because it wasn’t set in the car right. It was due to my mistake,” Park said. “Naturally, the cars turn left, so it should have just been a left and turn and a stop. But Larry Foyt was the lucky dog, I think at the time, and was coming back up on the inside of the field and hit me in the door.
“After that, I don’t remember anything, until regaining consciousness in the infield care center.”
Park’s car was T-boned on the drivers’ side by Larry Foyt that required the rescue crew to cut his vehicle open to remove him. The entire incident left him with a severe brain injury and changed the trajectory of his once-promising career.
Returned too soon to the track
The 2001 accident at Darlington Raceway knocked Steve Park out of racing competition for the rest of that season.
Park returned to the track in March 2002, but things were much different. According to Steven Cole Smith of Autoweek, his speech was notably slurred, and he was much more emotional. Although he drove quite fast, Park was involved in several crashes and was out of the Cup Series races after 2003.
One of these notable crashes included the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway Park in July 2002. Park initially avoided hitting Rusty Wallace but collided with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. that led to Park driven into the guardrail and flipped over several times. He luckily escaped the situation without any significant injuries.
Park experienced some success in other NASCAR events after 2003, such as the Camping World Truck Series and the K&N Pro Series East. However, his time in the Cup Series came and went after his return in 2010, and 2011 for three total starts with Tommy Baldwin Racing.
Since then, he has continued to remain around the sport.