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Observations on Safety in NASCAR

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I have often railed against NASCAR for their lack of safety team that travels with the series such as what the NHRA and IndyCar have and have criticized their response to accidents.  This weekend, however I have to point out how well the ISC crew at Talladega responded to crashes in the ARCA and Nationwide races.  In the ARCA race, a driver was unable to get out of his car when it ended up on its door.  Instead of just pulling the car over they utilized a rollback wrecker, tilting the bed down next to the car and rolling car over onto the angled bed then letting it down gently. Great procedure!  Yesterday’s Nationwide crash involving Eric McClure showed great response from the ISC safety crews as well when they responded quickly to the scene and cut the roof back on McClure’s car to get him out.

Unfortunately, the good work the crews did is practically negated by the failure of ISC to put SAFER barrier all the way around the inside walls of Talladega.  If McClure had hit the wall at that speed and angle another 10-20 yards down the track he would have hit a bare concrete wall.  There is no doubt in my mind that the results of that crash would have been tragic.  Race cars can crash into outside walls and inside walls.  They can crash into walls on straights as well as turns.  There is no excuse for not having SAFER barrier all of the way around both outside and inside walls.  ISC and SMI are making plenty of money as evidenced by how much they spend on amenities and entertainment facilities at the tracks; that’s all well and good, but money needs to be spent on safety as well.  It’s irresponsible of both companies to not protect the safety of the drivers whose backs they’re making they are profiting from.

NASCAR is also at fault here.  They set the rules, why don’t they mandate the use of SAFER all the way around both inside and outside walls?  I don’t see much of a difference between this and the concussion controversy in the NFL.  Just as the NFL needs to do more to safeguard players from future health issues arising from concussions, NASCAR needs to do more to safeguard their drivers through track safety.  They’ve done a lot since the late 1990s and early 2000s to improve safety by mandating certain types of safety gear and improving the safety of the race cars, it is now time for them to do the same for race track safety features.  Teams and drivers may concentrate on performance and winning and forget about safety and tracks may concentrate on profitability and forget about safety but NASCAR is the sanctioning body and it’s their job to keep safety in mind.

Where is this generation’s Jackie Stewart?  Why won’t a NASCAR driver (or drivers) take a stand and demand better safety features at the tracks?  I don’t think Brian France and NASCAR could get away with what Bill France got away with in the earlier days of NASCAR.  More than ever, the drivers as opposed to the teams and cars are the focus of NASCAR; if a Dale Jr, Gordon, Johnson, or Stewart for example began to organize the drivers or threaten a boycott, Bill France Sr’s tactics wouldn’t work.  It’s also worth asking where are the past champions like Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, and Darrell Waltrip?  They have the status of champions and the bully pulpit of the TV microphone to challenge NASCAR to do better on track safety.

I can’t help but think NASCAR and its fans have become complacent in the absence of tragedy in one of their races.  Is it going to take a driver dying in a crash against a SAFER-less wall? I hope not.


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