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It’s time to think about drastic changes at Daytona and Talladega

By admin | February 26, 2013

 Kyle Larson airborne car rips away part of the protective catch fence at the Daytona International Speedway.

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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26 Responses to “It’s time to think about drastic changes at Daytona and Talladega”

  1. Tony Geinzer Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    I think if Talladega ran Nights and Summer Again together, it would save SEC Season and Halloween from being remixed. Also, I would like to see a Wheelie Bar a la Pro Stock Car and Motorcycle as an equal response to the Roof Flaps.

  2. Chip Revels Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    How about fining, suspending, and taking points away from drivers that wrecklessly avoid running second and tear up twenty cars in the waining portion of races. They seem to can drive proper til the last 3 laps. Levy sanctions on ROUGH driving. Its ok to run second.

  3. Robert Green Says:
    February 26th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    This is a tough one… It seems the new cars, with all the driver safety features in place, can now adequately protect the driver in a bad wreck. I couldn’t believe Kyle Larson climbed out of his demolished car. Like you point out, the problem now appears to be fan safety. The obvious answer is the same one that NASCAR has pursued over the years, speed reduction, but how will the fans take it?

    Formula 1’s use of a power booster has intrigued me and perhaps this might be the one place NASCAR might consider its use. F1 only allows a limited number of power booster uses per race. My point is, cut the Sprint Cup cars down to a top speed of 180 mph but allow them so many uses of the power booster during the course of each superspeedway race. It could provide an new element of strategy. It would act to separate cars from the pack and who knows? Maybe NASCAR’s fans would like the end result…

  4. RacingFan Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 2:36 am

    If 2 or more cars hit the fence simultaneously, it is hard to imagine any fence holding that much weight and force back. If one car hits the fence and weakens it, and then another hits the same spot immediately afterwards, it will probably go through also.

    The cars look like pinballs out there at the end of almost every “pack racing” race. They are playing with fire. Lawsuits after a bigger tragedy may shut down the plate tracks, and may shut down NASCAR entirely.

  5. Beentherebefore Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 6:16 am

    Forget modifying the cars any further. I advocate tearing down the banking at one end of these speedways. Make the turn flat or even reverse-camber, like on a road course. The average speeds will come down about 30mph and I guarantee you that no driver will be flying into that flat turn at close to 200mph. As an alternative, the current infield road course (or some part of it) could be used in the race to get the overall speeds down. Might make for some interesting racing.

  6. Al Sequeda Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 6:55 am

    I think running the road course same as the Rolex 24, with the Sprint Cup cars would be PERFECT!!!!! If you have ever attended the 24hr race , you would know that speed and horsepower is required as well as driver skill to navigate the road course , completely captivating!! A ton more strategy would come into play as well as reducing the speeds.

  7. Arnold Decker Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 7:52 am

    What about a second fence inside the main fence.

    I also think lowering the banks or changing the track layout should be considered.

    A reverse curve in the back stretch

  8. Ronnie Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am

    If you’ve ever been to Daytone and Dega and took a moment to look at the catch fencing, it’s clear this type of accident had the potential to happen.
    Dega being my home track, I’ve been going there for many years. I was in that lower section when Bobby tore down the fence about 200 ft past where we were sitting. I prefer tower seats these days.
    Sitting in in the Alabama heat waiting for all the pre race to get over with, and being bored, I’ve often studied the catch fencing. It’s made with some stout anchor I beams to anchor the numerous cables. It’s what fills the gap between the cables that’s scary. It’s nothing more than chain link fencing. The cables have proven time and time again they are capable of keeping a whole car out of the stands. However, anything that goes between the cables has the potential to get in the stands. As we have seen several times, the catch fence of todays design will rip a car to pieces, and simple physics dictate that chain link fencing will not hold back parts and pieces traveling at 190 mph. I keep reading and hearing that a wheel assembly “sailed over the fence”. No, sorry, it went THROUGH the fence.
    The only solution in my opinion is to close off the lower sections of seating, add more upper seating, and let them continue to race on the current track configuration.

  9. Sue Rarick Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:15 am

    The simplest suggestion I’ve heard that would work is to use groved tires like they already have to transport the cars. The contact area would be reduced enough that the cars would have to brake into the corners and that in itself would drasticly reduce the speeds PLUS it would spread out the field like every other track.

  10. Hank Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Is mandating numerically higher rear axle ratios combined with tire height limits for certain tracks just too simple a solution?

  11. Robert Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Centrifugal force dictates that cars and pieces of cars, not under control will fly outward from the circle of the track. Therefore, why not move the stands to the inside of the track. Problem solved! Put a jumbo screen where the stands used to be to show video of the other side of the track. Expensive? Very. Safe? Absolutely!

  12. Rusty Frame Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Do something like de-tuneing the engines to lower the horsepower some, eliminate the restrictor plate and maybe then the cars will be able to run outside of these packs once again and we won’t have them banging and crashing into each other on the final lap and sending vehicles into the fence.
    If that isn’t possible, lower the banking which will slow them down coming into the curves.

  13. ron hill Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 10:18 am

    drop the turns down to a realistic degree where every driver would have to lift off the gas peddel. them add more spoiler so cars handle better. after couple races i belive these new layouts would be better than anything we have seen at daytona and taladega. the owners of these two tracks need to understand fix the track or start watching the fans leave. these tracks are more now about a demelition derby than a race

  14. ginaV24 Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I’m not a fan of RP tracks. To me, the racing is 95% boring (since the drivers are rightfully trying to keep their cars intact until the end) followed by 5% sheer terror when I’m worried who is going to be in the “big one”. I also tend to think the results could be determined by a roll of the dice.

    On the topic of the cars however, in looking at the accidents that have happened in particular since NASCAR went to the COT, it seems to me that there needs to be changes to keep the cars from getting airborne. I’m not an engineer, but it seems to happen in particular at the RP tracks since they run in packs.

    From my observation, when the cars get turned around backward, the roof flaps deploy and then they lift off the ground, once another car hits the already unweighted car, away it goes.

    It’s bad enough if the car simply bounces onto other cars, but when it hits the fence, it seems to shred the car like a cheese grater sending metal and other parts everywhere.

    Either that or NASCAR needs to reduce the banking at these tracks.

  15. midasmicah Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Get rid of the restrictor plates and the cars wouldn’t all be in a pack. Also buold the catch fence so the curved section turns inward more. No gates and a second fence inside the first one would help.

  16. Ed in GA Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    If you make them use the Chicayne(sp) on the back stretch, it would slow them way down.

  17. Brian Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    First and foremost the reason the accident started in the first place on Saturday and with Edwards and Kesolowski at Dega is BLOCKING. IF the lead car did not move up the track to block the enitre accident does not happen and he likely wins the race versus getting 14th or whatever and wrecking a $200,000 race car.
    In each case the leader caused the wrecks.
    GinaV: the 32 car ws not even close to airborne or even backwards thus the roof flaps were not deploying as the only reason the car went airborne is getting hit be the following pack of cars. So it is physics plan and simple. At Dega the 99 was ariborne yes and heading for the fence but was actually going back down toward the track when hit by the 39 car and sent flying. Again the technology was doing its job.

  18. loose nut Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Well I for one think that you should not go overboard. The fence did slow things dowm enough so that no one died,thank goodness.Racing is dangerous,NASCAR almost ran itself into the ground with the COT. Remove the seating along the walkway and build a better fence.If we panic and start demanding changes at all costs it may be that what you have left is not worth watching.

  19. Gene Johnson Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Remove the restrictor plates and run the road course and if necessary to keep speeds down, go to a chicane on the back stretch. Same thing for Talladega.


  20. Offkilter Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I agree with loose nut. Build a better fence then build another behind it. Reducing the banking will only give us two more tracks like california and michigan. But in reality, nothing will be done except for maybe a like-for-like section replacement where the damage was so that nascar can issue a press release before the july race.

  21. P J Katz Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    The statement by Chip Revels that “it’s OK to run second” is assnine, would you want to come in second in a fight? If a driver is ok with finishing second, he should be fired. Blocking is part of racing plain and simple.

  22. ccw Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    The Nationwide cars are not the same as the Sprint cars, are they? I do believe they are still running in tandem. Could that be part of the problem? New bumpers, maybe?

  23. Tyler West Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Lowering the turns IS THE DUMBEST THING I’VE EVER HEARD!! No way in HELL should they ever do that. Those who think that crap is a good idea need to take a long walk off a short pier. Stuff happens, there will NEVER be anything that is 100 percent safe. Daytona is the best, folks don’t like it then let them go do something else!! Who the hell wants more boring-ass flat, multi-grooved race tracks? That is total BS!!

  24. Keith Says:
    February 27th, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Everyone should take a look at the new proposed front grandstand design. The grandstands will have a section above the Earnhardt and Petty towers and will be as high as the Suites. Since the race does not sell out anymore and they will be adding seats they can just close the lower sections and stop all the assanine talk of tearing down the banking or putting a dog leg in the track and ruin the race.

  25. Rt Says:
    February 28th, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    The racing at these tracks is not very good.Drivers need a car that is capable of running without the pack more horsepower maybe different tires (not as wide) force them to use the brake in the corners etc. But the real problem is you have drivers that don’t mind turning someone into the fence at 200 mph. Some of these drivers have all the answers for everything, make them answer for doing something stupid you never turn someone on the right rear even rookies know its too dangerous. They know that their car is safe and they probably won’t get hurt so they act like tough guys in their interviews (punks). The best I can tell most of the races the guy in front coming to the checkerd flag got there without wrecking the field maybe the guy in second needs to learn how to pass if the only way to pass him is to wreck the field maybe second would have been ok (blocking is not ok either). One thing for sure a driver that causes a wreck should not get a free pass there needs to be a penality just saying my bad after taking out 15 cars isn’t
    right. There is nothing worse than going to a race and getting 10 laps into it and 5 or 10 of the top drivers are out. The driver that’s causes the wreck says tell them I’m sorry how about send me a check for ruining the race. Make the DRIVERS take some responsibility!!! NASCAR rules everything now why not control running over cars, blocking, being stupid etc. Just saying….

  26. GStephenson Says:
    March 1st, 2013 at 12:06 am

    I agree with a few of the others that the Rolex road course option be explored. It is the most cost effective option. It will keep the field bunched up. The track modifications are in place. This configuration is already considered “World Class”. And finally; it gives the fans something they keep asking for; another road course.