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Yellow line and big packs make plate tracks unique and dangerous

By admin | April 29, 2009

By Richard Allen

The Aaron’s 499 at the Talladega Super Speedway may well go down as one of the most exciting races in recent NASCAR history. Fortunately, it will not go down as the most tragic.

The race featured two of the ‘Big One’ crashes the track has come to be known for. Each of those wrecks took some of the sport’s top stars out of contention. However, as racing at Talladega goes, that is just part of it.

But the crash that will be most remembered from this race will be the one that occurred on the last lap.

As Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski raced through the tri-oval section of the speedway for the final time, Keselowski tried desperately to pass and Edwards tried desperately to block his maneuver.

Keselowski’s car tapped that of Edwards, sending the former leader spinning. The car began to lift off the ground and was then struck by a third car driven by Ryan Newman. Edwards’ car soared even higher into the air and headed toward the packed grandstand.

Thankfully, the catch fence prevented the car from going into the stands. Although debris did go into the crowd and injure eight spectators, the alternative would have been far more devastating.

The problem at Talladega and its sister track in Daytona is that cars are required to be fitted with horsepower robbing restrictor plates. As a result, the cars are essentially equal and thus race in large packs. Only the slightest of mistakes can create the much dreaded ‘Big One’.

During a race at Talladega in 1987, a car driven by Bobby Allison went airborne and, like Edwards, almost sailed into the grandstand. That moment ushered in the restrictor plate and changed NASCAR racing on its two fastest tracks forever.

However, the very thing that is supposed to prevent a horrific tragedy creates a situation in which such a tragedy becomes more of a possibility. Such close-quarter racing makes big wrecks inevitable. And wrecks at such speeds open the door for cars to go airborne, which makes them very dangerous and unpredictable.

For NASCAR, there is quite a dilemma. If the tracks at Daytona and Talladega are to be used, restrictor plates are a necessity. Besides, fans love the tight racing. But at the same time, there is the possibility for what would be an unthinkable tragedy.

NASCAR has not helped itself in some ways. For example, the sanctioning body’s insistence on the yellow line rule, a rule that prevents drivers from passing below a line painted at the bottom of the track contributed to the Edwards crash.

Last fall at Talladega, Regan Smith went below the yellow line to pass Tony Stewart on the last lap. NASCAR disallowed the pass and declared Stewart the winner. Had Keselowski been allowed to drop below the line as Edwards threw his block, the final lap crash likely would not have occurred.

Fortunately, Carl Edwards’ car did not go into the grandstand. But just because it did not this time does not mean it will not the next time. Something will have to be changed in order to prevent tragedy.

Whatever is decided, it is essential that NASCAR get it right. If the unthinkable ever happens, the sport known as stock car racing may well cease to exist.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

*For a chuckle click on the link below to catch the latest in my animated series, “Racing Re-Cap: Talladega”.

In this episode, racing reporter Mark Mustang is amazed to find that co-host, Daisy Dreamboat, has a racing question. But, the question turns out not to be race related at all.

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2 Responses to “Yellow line and big packs make plate tracks unique and dangerous”

  1. Charles Says:
    April 30th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Richard I agree with most of what you said! But what I think needs to be done is protecting the fans! They need to comeup with some new type of ’safer barrier’ for the fans and leave the racing alone!

    Look in my state like a lot of others people are killed on the highway everyday, when the wreck is cleaned up and debris is hauled away someone may have lost a loved one to a drunk driver or a freak accident on the highway, no one will be bandstanding safety much, the speedlimit will stay the same and life goes on!

    My point is racing is designed to be high speed risky contest, you share the awards when you are succesful, but should be aware and accept the danger ! Just as the working people who drive many risky miles to attend a race!

  2. AndrewFromTN Says:
    April 30th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Count me among the apparent minority that is not a fan of restrictor plate events.

    I say events because I don’t consider the Aarons’ 499 to have been a race.

    It’s part Russian roulette, part demolition derby at 200mph.

    When I’ve watch, I just sit there and see who will be the next unfortunate souls whose cars are wrecked by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I’ve gone at least 7 or 8 times to ‘Dega, but NO MORE. I’ll will no longer put my dollars into watching this dangerous wreckfest.