That Fateful Night
May 30, 1975. Pre leaves a party to celebrate the Finnish tour at Geoff Hollister's house at 12:15 A.M. with Nancy Alleman, his girlfriend, and Frank Shorter, his long time running acquaintance. Pre drives Nancy down to the University of Oregon ticket office where she had left her car. He then proceeded to drive Frank home maybe a mile or a mile and a half to Kenny Moore's house on the top of Skyline Boulevard. Pre and Shorter sit in the car for quite a while discussing their thoughts on the imposed AAU moratorium. Shorter gets out of the gold MGB and Pre drives off down the hill. Pre approaches an intersection with Birch Lane, a road familiar to him which he had run on many times. As the road approaches this intersection there is a sharp curve. Pre's '73 MGB crosses the center line and bounds over the curb. Pre's car hits the side of a natural rock wall and rolls back over on top of him. The MGB crushes him to death.
Pre had been drinking that night, and the autopsy report would later reveal a blood alcohol content level of .16, twice the legal limit. But none of the guests at the party that night would recall that he was drunk, or that he was too impaired to drive. To some, Pre's death was a clear cut case of senseless drinking and driving. But Pre was never hypocritical about his drinking. He liked beer and that was that. It was a road he had traveled so many times before, but that night it took his life. No one except Pre knows why that car veered off the road that night. The Eugene police questioned a young driver of another MGB, that had been seen at the crash site, but he took a lie-detector test and suspicions of him were dismissed. Maybe there was another car that night, maybe Pre swerved to avoid a deer, maybe he was just drunk. But no matter what, Pre's death was a huge tragedy.
Plans were made for a memorial service at Pirate Stadium in Coos Bay. Three days after his last race, fellow track runners were the pallbearers at Pre's memorial. They were dressed in their AAU warm-ups, and Pre was to be buried in his Olympic uniform. The evening after his memorial service in Coos Bay, another was held in Eugene at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus, where Pre's close friend Kenny Moore delivered the eulogy. As Moore and other athletes Pre had known put their tears into words, the clock on Hayward field continued to run, all the way to 12:36.0, a time that Pre said would "satisfy" him in the 3 mile. Satisfy? Hell it would have shattered the World record. That's just how Pre was though, and I'm sure that's how he would want to be remembered. During the last minute the crowd of 4000 on hand stood and chanted Go Pre! Go Pre! It was as if you could see him running out there, driving into the last turn, that look in his eyes, glancing up at the clock, another American Record in his hands. It was a legend that the clouds went away when Pre stepped onto the track. People at the memorial service that day still maintain that the sun broke through just as the clock stopped on Pre's World record time.
There will never be another Steve Prefontaine. He was truly one of a kind. Everyone who ever saw him run lost a unique and personal relationship that night. Pre died seven years before I was even born. And out of everything in life, the only thing I regret is that I wasn't born soon enough to see him run. Pre truly was fire on the track.
On May 30, 1975, that fire was extinguished forever.