By admin | June 11, 2008
By Richard Allen
Over the last few years NASCAR has been in the business of regulating numerous things. Gear ratios, wing angles and shock absorber packages are some of the things the sanctioning body has taken upon itself to mandate to teams.
In order to better serve its fans and competitors NASCAR would do better to mandate certain standards to its tracks rather than its teams. It would be best to let the teams worry about the competitive aspects of the sport and the sanctioning body worry about things sanctioning bodies should concern themselves with, like safety and giving the fans the most for their money.
Last week evolved into a bit of a pick on Pocono Raceway free for all in the national media and that track is one that NASCAR should be forcing to upgrade. However, tracks owned by race promoting super powers International Speedway Corporation and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. are not beyond reproach.
The first, and most important, area in which NASCAR needs to step up its enforcement of policy is safety. Since last week’s race was in Pocono that track is a good place to begin this discussion. In 1992, Davey Allison was injured in a horrific looking crash in which his car slid through a grassy section of the back stretch of the Pennsylvania track and then tumbled over and over a metal guard rail that separated the track from the infield.
Metal guard rail is extremely dangerous due to the number of pieces sent flying by speeding cars. Those pieces could easily endanger that particular driver, other drivers or fans. Even worse than the fact that the guard rail was there in 1992 was the fact that the guard rail was still in that section of the track in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his teammate, Steve Park, went for a wild ride.
That guard rail was still in the same section of track during Sunday’s race. NASCAR should never allow such a dangerous situation continue to exist over such a long period of time.
But Pocono is not the only track which has put drivers in jeopardy. Earlier this year Jeff Gordon lost control of his car and slammed hard into an inside wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That particular section of the track, seemingly out of harm’s way, was not protected with a Safer Barrier. Gordon’s car was heavily damaged, but fortunately, he was not seriously injured.
Another area which exhibited a need for improved safety occurred this past weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway. During Friday night’s Craftsman Truck Series race driver Scott Speed lost control after bumping another truck. His truck skidded across the grass and onto pit road. What if a crew had been performing a right side tire change when that happened? The results could have been unthinkable.
Every pit road, whether separated from the track by a grass infield or not, should have a pit wall. This is one of those things that should be taken care of before it is proven necessary, rather than waiting and reacting after a tragedy.
Aside from these mandates which pertain to safety, NASCAR, as a responsible sanctioning body, should mandate certain aspects of the fan experience as well. Security, traffic control, concession prices and quality, number of restrooms and cleanliness are all issues not to be ignored.
On the issue of security, I recently heard a story of an incident at a track this season, which I will not disclose here, that made my skin crawl. From my understanding, the situation was handled quickly, professionally and appropriately by the track’s security team. However, it was the track’s security team, not NASCAR’s or one regulated by NASCAR.
NASCAR needs to become more of a proactive entity rather than a reactive one. These areas of safety and fan experience are too important to wait until something happens, then try to fix it. If NASCAR sees a need in any of these areas they should see that it is resolved.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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