NASCAR 1998 Winston Cup Rookie of The Year Kenny Irwin Jr. died July 7, 2000 of multiple injuries sustained in a high-speed crash at New Hampshire International Speedway, Louden, NH. Irwin was 30 years old.
Irwin, an Indianapolis Indiana native, began racing at the age of 6. Born August 5th, 1969 to Reva and Kenny Irwin Sr., Kenny Irwin was the only son in a family of four children. The younger Irwin was strongly supported in his love for racing by his father, who spent many hours working with the young driver on his cars at the family business, K&R Tool Rental. Irwin began racing quarter-midgets before he was in second grade, and never stopped driving. By the time Irwin graduated from Lawrence North High School in 1988, he had logged many track hours, and was already humble and unassuming in regard to his accomplishments. Irwin was modest and even shy when away from the track, and few of his fellow students or teachers, unless they were regular fans of NASCAR, were even aware of the young driver's budding career.
The July 7th accident which claimed Irwin's life came as he practiced before qualifying for the 2000 New England 300. Irwin, who was 28th in the season standings, held a number of racing distinctions. In 1998 Irwin was the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, and in 1997 Craftsman Truck Series Rookie of the Year. 1996 found the young Hoosier the National Midget Series Champion. Irwin had started in the open-wheel ranks of the USAC in 1991, and over five full seasons earned 7 career USAC Stoops/Freightliner Sprint Car Series wins, as well as their Rookie of the Year title. In 1994 Irwin captured the USAC Silver Crown Series Rookie of the Year title. Irwin placed second in the USAC standings in 1995.
Irwin was killed July 7th 2000 as his #42 car sponsored by BellSouth Mobility entered the third turn at the infamous New Hampshire International Speedway, striking the wall of the almost un-banked turn at approximately 150 mph. The vehicle flipped onto its roof. Irwin was transported to Concord Hospital where he was pronounced dead from multiple but unspecified injuries. Track officials did not announce Kenny Irwin's death for over four hours.
Irwin was the second NASCAR driver to die at Turn 3 at Loudon in the 2000 racing season: Two months earlier to the day, fourth-generation NASCAR driver Adam Petty was killed when his car went into the wall. Petty, 19 years old, died from massive head injuries. Kenny Irwin's death, the first in the Winston Cup series since 1994, and so close to the fatal accident which claimed Petty, increased the demand by drivers for both an investigation into track conditions and a move for improvements at NHIS.