By admin | June 22, 2008
By Richard Allen
A few days ago I ran an article titled, “NASCAR should mandate standards for tracks”. In that article it was pointed out that unsafe conditions had been allowed to remain in place and thus left open the door for needless tragedy. Tracks at Pocono, Texas and Las Vegas presented potentially dangerous areas that should have been or should be addressed.
Unfortunately, the tragic death this past Saturday of drag racer Scott Kalitta revealed that other racing sanctioning bodies also share the need for greater vigilance in regard to safety.
A racing death affects all of racing, not just that one particular facet of racing. While Kalitta’s death was tragic and quite possibly needless, perhaps it can also serve as a wake up call to all forms of racing and the organizations that control the sport.
NASCAR, the NHRA, the IRL and Formula 1 as well as every other racing organization and every privately owned race track in America and the world should constantly re-evaluate safety and think ahead.
Darrell Waltrip has said on several occasions that, “If you think there’s a place on a track where a car can’t get to, it can”. Jeff Gordon’s car proved that earlier this year in Las Vegas when it slammed into one of the few spots around the track not protected by a Safer Barrier. The protective barrier was not in place there because speedway officials thought it unnecessary. LVMS has since addressed the problem.
Kalitta’s crash occurred when his car burst into flames as it went through the finishing lights. His parachute did not properly deploy as a result and the car scrubbed off little speed before it hit a retaining wall at the end of the run off area. Perhaps it was thought a car would never reach that area. Tragically, Darrell Waltrip’s statement was proven correct.
I was in attendance the day Michael Waltrip’s car jammed into the infield entrance gate during a Busch Series race at Bristol in a now famous, or infamous wreck. Luckily, and remarkably, tragedy was avoided that day. Luck should not be relied on to save a driver’s life. That gate has since been completely redone, but it should not have been where it was in the first place.
When it comes to safety nothing, absolutely nothing, should be taken for granted. Race car drivers are brave, maybe even crazy, but that does not mean they have a death wish. However, they will always push right to the limit. It is the job of the sanctioning bodies be sure those limits are in safe places.
Hopefully, lessons will be learned by what happened last Saturday, but not just by the NHRA.
Let us hope more attention will be paid to correcting potentially dangerous situations involved in protecting human life than will and has been paid to protecting the lives of horses.
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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