By admin | February 26, 2013
By Richard Allen
If I were to list my favorite NASCAR race tracks, the giant super speedways would be among my top-5. I have always looked forward to the races held at the Daytona International Speedway and the Talladega Super Speedway. So, it is a difficult thing for me to ask, but is it time to rethink racing on these two tracks? Or at least, is it time to think about drastic changes in the way races are run at these two facilities?
After this past Saturday’s Nationwide Series race in Daytona in which pieces and parts from Kyle Larson’s car went into the grandstand area and injured more than 20 fans, two critically, the question of what comes next has to be asked.
In 1987, Bobby Allison’s car blew a tire and went airborne as the driver roared through the tri-oval section of the track in Talladega. The flying racer then sailed into the catch fence and ripped a large portion of that protective barrier down. Fortunately, the car was hurled back onto the track rather than into the crowded seating area.
At that time, cars ran at speeds well over 200mph around NASCAR two fastest raceways. Fearing that such high speeds would lead to more crashes similar to the one Allison experienced, the sanctioning body implemented restrictor plates on the engines used on those tracks. By cutting back the air flow into the engines, horsepower was drastically reduced and speeds were lowered.
A side effect of the restrictor plates was that cars tended to race in tightly bunched packs. As a result, ‘The Big One’ became a part of the NASCAR vernacular to describe the multi-car wrecks that often took place at Daytona and Talladega. With speeds still relatively high and cars bouncing off of each other during those massive crashes, cars still occasionally went airborne.
Saturday’s crash provided a vivid reminder of the fact that cars are still quite capable of leaving the track surface, even with restrictor plates.
But pack racing isn’t necessarily the real cause of the crashes, speed is. As the video linked above shows, Allison’s 1987 crash was initially a single-car incident.
In 2009, Carl Edwards flew into the catch fenceat Talladega very close to the same spot where the Allison incident took place. In that case, there were only two cars initially involved in the crash(with a third making contact after the No. 99 car went airborne) as Edwards was bumped by Brad Keselowski. That accident injured seven fans.
In the Sprint Cup race last fall at Talladega, Tony Stewart’s car left the track surface after contact from another car. Fortunately, that incident occurred in a section of the track where there are no grandstands, but the car did go into the air as other cars forced it off the ground.
With all of those examples, some the result of pack racing and some not, it’s rather obvious that there is a danger involved in racing at Daytona and Talladega to both competitors and spectators. So, what should be done?
Making no changes at all can’t be considered a reasonable answer to that question. And further, whatever changes occur ought to be drastic ones.
Adjusting the size of the restrictor plate has been tried multiple times in the past. The plates have been made smaller but the cars are still going airborne. The answer has to be something other than that.
Typically, when I write a column such as this, I try to offer a suggested solution to what I perceive as a problem. In this instance, I honestly don’t know what the answer is.
Perhaps not selling tickets in certain sections of the grandstands and offering some sort of expanded Pay Per View television package for these races could be considered. That would also open up the possibility of running mid-week races at night as well. However, NASCAR just signed a new television contractwith its current network partners and that would have to be re-worked for such offerings. It would be highly unlikely that any such re-working could or would take place.
More realistically, some sort of reinventing of the catch fence and other safety devices is going to have to take place. Some have pointed to the catch fence as an area that can and should be addressed after Saturday’s crash. NASCAR has just performed such a reinvention of the track drying system so it is not out of the realm of possibility that a similar change could be made in the way of safety regarding the protective retainers. A sort of SAFER Barrier for the fans similar to that which now protects drivers from hard impacts with walls.
Whatever the solution to improve safety at Daytona and Talladega, it needs to come sooner rather than later. Another incident that results in a car or pieces of a car going into the grandstands could produce an unthinkable result.
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