NASCAR Still Needs to Focus on Driver Safety
NASCAR has done a great job with driver safety over the last 10 years with the mandating of HANS devices, soft walls and copious amounts of changes to the race car itself.
But, as we saw on Monday, the work is not done.
In case you missed it, on the last lap at Watkins Glen, David Ragan’s Ford turned into a pinball thanks to a barrier that runs almost perpendicular to the race track and David Reutimann’s Toyota flipping after contacting Ragan. Both drivers had hard hits and it’s a testament to the safety improvements that NASCAR has made that they both walked away.
But I am still left with a few questions.
Why is that wall there? And why does it jut out toward the racing surface at that angle? It seems like this would have been addressed a long time ago. And why doesn’t the Watkins Glen course have more Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers? The Glen is a fast road course with some long straightaways and fast speeds. Tire barriers and steel guardrails just don’t do the trick anymore. There is better technology available, people.
“It’s a shame that a race track we go to in 2011 doesn’t have a better wall design all the way around the race track,” Ragan said. “Hopefully they’ll look at that. I’ve been to some dirt tracks that have better walls than that.”
Harsh words, but he earned the right to say them with that hit.
“You can’t have walls like that,” said Jeff Gordon. “You’re going to find those places eventually, so you’ve got to fix them. Unfortunately, this one has been found before and we’ve seen what can happen.
“To me, we’re very fortunate that we don’t have any injuries coming out of that because it could have been much worse. In this situation, they’ve got a wall that spits a car, not only a big impact, but spits it right back out into oncoming traffic.”
And Gordon wasn’t involved in any of the mayhem on Monday, but Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch joined Ragan and Reutimann with hard hits and mangled race cars
Here’s my issue. I understand safety is a work in progress and you can never make the cars or tracks too safe. With that being said, it shouldn’t take someone hitting one of these bad spots for NASCAR to talk with the track owners about making changes. That’s what happened at Richmond and Texas with inside walls. Gordon had a hard crash at the Virginia track that led to a new SAFER barrier there: hard crash, some talk and, boom, safety improvements.
I’m not saying a SAFER barrier would be the answer at Watkins Glen at the spot of the Ragan-Reutimann wreck. But something needs to be done about the angle of that wall.
Why isn’t NASCAR more proactive with these things? Why aren’t NASCAR officials and track officials walking these courses to spot these trouble areas? Sure they are few and far between these days, but what we’ve learned is that if there is a danger spot, some poor driver will find it. I think that is some good off-season homework for NASCAR this year.
And, for the record, Rockingham is installing SAFER barriers at the speedway next month.
More like this story