As soon as everyone was able to catch their breath Sunday after the wildness that was Talladega, fingers began pointing, allegations began to fly and blame was laid.
Some fans blamed NASCAR for a ?stupid? rule banning ?bump-drafting?, others blamed the ?stupid? car, and even some drivers got in on the act bemoaning NASCAR and the new generation racecar equipped with restrictor plates and a rule that they felt didn?t allow them to race.
As I looked out at the aftermath of twisted metal, with Mark Martin slowly walking away from the carnage and heard the blame being thrown around, I remembered a line I used to hear in the garage most often in jest but with a serious undertone; ?Welcome to the world of big time stock car auto racing.?
Whether NASCAR was right or wrong or their newly designed car is at fault is a subject for another debate. My point is that no matter what anyone does, no matter what rules they write or cars they design by its very nature the sport of auto racing is inherently dangerous.
And despite anyone?s best efforts it always will be.
After the end of the spring Talladega race when Carl Edwards careened down the fence and injured eight fans, including one who ended up with a broken jaw, NASCAR and the track reacted. For the fall race the track raised the height of the fences, and NASCAR mandated smaller restrictor plates to slow the cars down. They also said that the practice of bump drafting in the turns would be strictly policed. These were the latest reactionary measures to the spring melee. As it turned out, no one got up into the fence but there were two cars that flipped, including Ryan Newman. In the case of Newman the entire NASCAR Nation fell silent as we watched the safety crews carefully cut the car apart. In the end Newman climbed out, none the worse for wear.
NASCAR can try to forecast and prepare for every dangerous situation, but the reality is no one can ever predict everything that can happen.
This past July I covered the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. I took my 12-year-old son and my 20-year-old daughter. Despite the fact that both my kids have spent many, many hours in a NASCAR garage, they had never actually watched a race from the stands. I got them tickets that put them 10 rows from the track. Before the race began I headed to the press box. I could look down from there and see the section they were sitting in.
This years Coke Zero 400 ended with Kyle Busch slamming the wall on the last lap as the leaders rocketed towards the finish line. The spot where he hit was right where my kids were. I didn?t see the aftermath of the accident with Busch slowly and angrily walking down pit lane. I was too busy scrambling for my cell phone and looking down into the crowd. About a minute after the crash, my cell phone rang and I was delighted to hear my son say ?wow, dad did you see that??
Before I got that phone call, I was scared because I knew that no matter what, racing is dangerous and no one can make it 100 percent safe.
I thought it ironic that this past weekend we remembered Greg Moore, the IndyCar driver who was killed ten years ago. In the past ten years NHRA drag racers Eric Medlin and Scott Kalitta were killed in the last two years-sadly I had interviewed Medlen the day before he died and he gave me his phone number and said to call him if I ever needed anything. And of course in our sport there has been Dale Earnhardt, Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Carlos Pardo who died during a race in the NASCAR Mexico series this past year.
Over the last ten years fans too have been killed and injured. In May 1999 three fans are killed, and eight injured at an IRL race at Lowe?s Motor Speedway. NASCAR learned from all those incidents and there is a bit of luck when you consider that NASCAR has never had a fan killed during a race with one of its three major touring series.
But that doesn?t mean it can?t happen, because no one can predict everything.
So what to do. Should NASCAR give up on restrictor plates? Abandon Talladega and Daytona? Redesign the racecars again to try and better keep them on the ground? Maybe they could do all of that. But that won?t mean that the danger won?t be there. Because as along as cars race with drivers wanting to go as fast as they can, and as long as people are willing to pay money to watch them, the ?big ones? will happen, disappointed drivers will walk away from their mangled machines or god forbid be carried, no matter what anyone does.
Welcome to the world of big time stock car auto racing.
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