DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Amidst a carnage-filled Daytona Speedweeks, some important questions were raised regarding the mass amounts of wrecked race cars this weekend.
Whether you want to look at this weekend’s races as an embarrassment or a boost for the sport is up to you. I’m not here to judge that.
All I want to know is why these drivers were wrecking so much, and not because I’m mad, but because I’m fascinated. These are supposed to be some of the best drivers in the business, but here they were, crashing like they were first-timers in the draft.
Maybe it was due to the lack of experience from rookie drivers, or simply working out the nervous jitters in the first race of the season, or having to do with the the stability of the cars in the draft.
Could all three of these factors have played a role in what we saw this weekend? Absolutely.
However, I’ve had an unconventional and interesting opinion as to why all of this madness was ensuing. This opinion can be traced back to last year’s spring Talladega race, if that gives you any idea where this is going.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a trend not only in the severity of certain superspeedway wrecks, but also the frequency of them. It’s not uncommon to have a race with two or three infamous ‘Big Ones.’
Wrecks don’t rattle these drivers anymore, and I have a thought as to why.
Think about this real world example: Would you drive more carefully if your passenger car had no seat belts, airbags, or windows? I bet you’d at least think twice about tailgating the person in front of you.
Now take your same passenger car out for a spin, but this time you are equipped with the latest sensory airbags, full-body roll cage, wearing a full-face crash helmet, wrapped from head-to-toe in bubble wrap, and are strapped in with a five-point harness. That’s about as close to a ‘mom approved’ safe vehicle as you’re going to get! (Maybe the bubble wrap is a bit much, but you get the idea.)
I have a feeling this is how the modern-day NASCAR driver feels inside the car, and NASCAR on FOX lead analyst Mike Joy was asked the same question on Sunday in light of the weekend’s events.
An old friend from my CBS days asked if today's safer cars and soft walls are enticing drivers to take more chances? Interesting theory.
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) February 27, 2017
With the safety advancements in NASCAR over the past couple decades, this could be the exact reason we are seeing drivers becoming more aggressive, resulting in even more torn up equipment.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that more risks taken in a race will result in more chances for something spectacular to happen. Granted, NASCAR has implemented stage racing and a playoff system to encourage drivers to take risks. But who can blame them? Isn’t that what the sport thrives off of? Spectacular moments?
That’s where the safety aspect of this comes into play. NASCAR needs their product on the track to be spectacular, but also to be safe. Race fans don’t want to see their heroes being hurt in accidents.
NASCAR has done a fantastic job investing the time and money into the safety innovations that drive the sport forward today. Drivers are now able to take unorthodox risks without a devastating safety consequences.
HANS devices, SAFER Barriers on walls, reinforced roll cages and seats, headrests … the list goes on and on of the life-saving safety innovations made by NASCAR. We even heard Darrell Waltrip in the FOX Sports booth this weekend talking about a cockpit ‘cocoon’ NASCAR is currently developing for the drivers.
Now whether the flurry of accidents this weekend were caused by drivers driving over their head, inexperienced rookies, or whatever you want to push the blame onto; it’s totally up to you. All I’m saying is that drivers may take chances today that they may not have taken fifteen years ago. That’s a good thing.
NASCAR needs risk takers, it needs aggression and it needs an occasional big crash. (Key word: occasional.) The sport feeds off of the passion and drama created by these moments.
Safety has given drivers an opportunity to showcase the best of themselves without dire consequences, but unfortunately this year’s Daytona Speedweeks brought out the worst side of them.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, the Performance Motorsports Network, Scorpion Radio Group, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Ethan “Speedy” Butler is Race Chaser Online’s Plains Region correspondent, residing in West Burlington, Iowa — just down from Knoxville Raceway, the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World’ — and aiding in the site’s sprint car databanks from ‘The Heartland of America’.
Butler has always had a passion for auto racing, going back to his younger years “playing with toy cars and trying to figure out how to get them to go faster”. He is both an avid dirt track and NASCAR fan, who spends his time away from home at one of the many local dirt tracks in the area, out on the lake fishing, or in the shop shaping up his next woodworking project. In 2015, he spent time as a marketing intern and flagman at 34 Raceway, one of the charter tracks for the FVP National Sprint League founded by Tod Quiring.
Butler is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.
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