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NHRA tragedy brings to light the dangers of racing for all involved

By admin | February 24, 2010

By Richard Allen

Racing is dangerous for the drivers who push their machines to the limit at high speeds. It is also dangerous for crew members who pit and work on those machines in what are often crowded and frantic situations. Those who participate in racing accept the risk once they agree to become involved in the sport.

Unfortunately, it was clearly shown last weekend that racing is even dangerous to those who attend the events as well.

Machines racing at incredible speeds in an enclosed atmosphere are inherently dangerous. After all, they are machines and machines fail from time to time. Also, those machines are prepared and controlled by humans and humans make mistakes from time to time. The mixture of high speed machines and humans leaves open the possibility, albeit a slight one, for tragedy.

Sunday at the Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix a female bystander was killed when a tire and wheel broke off the top fuel dragster of Antron Brown. The tire bounded into an area where spectators were walking and struck the woman. She was pronounced dead at an area hospital later that day.

Similar incidents have taken place at other tracks. In 1987 a fan was killed by a tire at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A fan was killed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway during an IRL race in 1999 when struck by debris that had been hit by a car and sent flying into the grandstands. In 1955 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans eighty fans were killed when the parts of a disintegrated car flew into the stands.

Last year, the dangers of NASCAR were made apparent when the car driven by Carl Edwards went airborne and very nearly went into the grandstands at Talladega. A car driven by Bobby Allison crashed in very much the same way in 1987. A repeat of the Le Mans accident would be the result if something like that ever did happen.

NASCAR instituted the use of the restrictor plate after the 1987 crash and began looking at the possibility of changing the rear wing on the Car of Tomorrow after the Edwards’ incident.

Most of the major sanctioning bodies in racing have gone to great extremes to prevent these horrific type of accidents. Catch fences have been raised and strengthened over the years. Various types of straps, tethers and other fasteners have been placed on cars to keep parts and pieces from flying away during an accident.

Perhaps a greater concern could come from the hundreds of local racing facilities that are under less control and scrutiny than the major tracks. Hopefully, local promoters will learn from this awful situation and reinforce safety measures at their venues, whether made to by a corporate legal advisor or not.

Hopefully all race promoters, large and small, will learn from incidents such as these. With that said, however, racing is a dangerous sport. Everyone, including spectators, are exposed to at least some degree of danger. These are fairly isolated incidents that often times could not have been helped even with the most well conceived safety measures in place. It is the hope of everyone involved in racing that any tragedies be as far removed as possible.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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