Jay Leno Escapes Death in 2,500-Horsepower Race Car Crash

Leno was with drag racing hero Bob Riggle when it hit the fan.

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Photo: Jay Leno’s Garage via YouTube

The latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage got pretty lively when the former late-night talk show host’s ride-along in a 2,500-horsepower drag racer went seriously awry and the car rolled violently with Leno and 80-year-old pilot Bob Riggle inside.

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As he was literally climbing out of the wreckage, Leno said, “Luckily, nobody got hurt. That shows you how good safety equipment is.”

Photo: Jay Leno’s Garage via YouTube

The pair were in Riggle’s famous “Hemi Under Glass” Plymouth Barracuda. The car’s engine is mounted where the back seat would be, putting the big block Hemi and its gigantic supercharger on prominent display beneath the car’s bubble rear window.

Photo: Jay Leno’s Garage via YouTube

With the engine’s weight removed from the front, the Plymouth was capable of eye-popping wheelies, which are referred to as “wheel stands” because of their length and duration. 

Photos of the car performing this stunt in Hot Rod magazine made an indelible impression on the young Jay Leno. His ride with his hero Riggle was an opportunity to knock an item off his “bucket list.”

Photo: Jay Leno’s Garage via YouTube

Riggle looks hale and hearty as ever and the Hemi Under Glass dragster appeared to be in excellent shape. The stunt was attempted at the infield of Irwindale Speedway, a tiny California oval track.

Plymouth Barracuda hemi under glass (Photo: Ashley Coates/Flickr)
Plymouth Barracuda (Photo: Ashley Coates/Flickr)

Leno offered no post-mortem analysis of what happened, but it looked like Riggle was undone by bumpy pavement that caused a lot of bouncing and a lack of space to brake after the wheelie was over. Turning the stiffly-sprung racer while it was bouncing tipped it over.

“Wait till my wife sees this,” said Riggle. “Your wife?” Leno quipped, waving his hand.

Riggle noted wistfully that the crash, which destroyed the Barracuda’s body and will necessitate a new body shell, was only his second crash in 50 years of doing demonstration runs.