TomTime Blog: Sprint Car Racing Must Be Made Safer

Tom Baker Carolinas Racing, Featured, Midwest, Northeast, Sprints & Midgets, Tom Baker Blog, West 18 Comments

August 6, 2013 – Blog By RaceChaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker

We need to talk about sprint car racing and the recent fatalities and injuries.  We cannot ignore the white elephant in the room any longer. We should have addressed it before now.

Did Josh Burton, Jason Leffler and Kramer Williamson all die this season in separate crashes because of random chance or is there something we can learn from them to prevent the next fatality?  Why did Tony Stewart break his leg?  Is there some improvement that could be made to lessen the odds of that recurring in the future?

These are vital questions.

I’ve seen plenty of injury and death in all forms of racing over my 40 years as a fan and insider.  I’ve also seen tracks, series and car builders make improvements in safety that decreased those occurrences drastically in their part of the sport.

The main thing is to keep open-minded safety discussion and ideas flowing at all times, not just after someone dies.

Sprint car racing can definitely be safer.

We could start by making the HANS device and full containment seats mandatory in all series/tracks, etc.  This is just common sense and should be applied throughout our sport.

I’m amazed that in 2013 there are still racers who would slack on these things and I’m furious when parents slack on them for their young kids who race.  You’re just inviting trouble where it doesn’t need to occur.  It’s like not wearing a seat belt in your passenger car or riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

I don’t know if these things would have saved either Jason Leffler or Kramer Williamson and I don’t know if they would have prevented Tony’s leg injury.

I do know that they are proven to lessen the odds of injury and may even prevent the next driver who flips or hits a wall from dying and that should be enough incentive to require racers at all levels to use them.

Next we need to look at every facet of car construction and discuss potential improvements.

Supermodifieds did that in the 70’s, implementing fuel bladders in the 70’s after a rash of fires.

NASCAR-style Modifieds did it in the 80’s after a rash of fatalities and car constructors started building less rigidity into the chassis because it was thought that the driver may be absorbing too much of the impact in a crash.

NASCAR made changes to the width of the driver area in the Sprint Cup cars in the past few years and they have made numerous other safety improvements to driver gear, cars and tracks in this decade.

IndyCar just built a whole new car designed with driver safety in mind.

Sprint cars are lightweight rocket ships with huge horsepower that go lightning fast, catch wheels and flip at the drop of a hat.  Isn’t that good enough reason to do everything possible to make them as safe as we can?

I am not an engineer and I surely don’t have all the answers.  I don’t believe that sprint car racing is, in and of itself, unsafe.

But it can be made safer from a driver standpoint.  Maybe it can be made safer from a car standpoint.

I’m not sure about the tracks.  That’s a highly complex question and requires a lot more thought.

Racing is a high-risk sport that gambles with death.  That’s why we must always do everything possible to prevent it.

PHOTO CREDIT:  “The Salt City Flyer” New York racer Joe Trenca at speed – Pickle’s Photos

Comments 18

  1. Sprincar racing is pretty much the only form of high powered high speed style of cars that are in the world that are relatively inexpensive. I would say if you counted how may sorintcars race in one given weekend compared to the amount of cars in nascar,indy, or many other top divisions and then compare the safety records for each type. I’m going to go out on a limb and say sprintcars are near the bottom of that list.

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  2. I agree that there has been enough happening lately to take a look at safety. With that said, I believe these cars are faster than ever and drivers are pushing these machines more than ever – Which is another reason to look at things. I’m not one to wish these guys wouldn’t risk their profession by running short tracks on week nights. I do however have to believe that this sprint car season and the latest injury to Tony….may push the right people to look into a few changes. In the meantime, I just hope it’s bad run and we can get through the rest of the season with no more injuries or worse.

  3. Tom,i’m not a racer, but I due knowa little bit about sprint cars as 2 of my brother-in laws drove them back in the days.I was at Port Royal Saturday night when we were told about Krammer and was also there the last time Tony Strwert was there.Sprint car racing is a lot different now than it was then, the cars go a lot faster now.

  4. Drivers and their families know the dangers of racing. They have been raised around it and its in their blood. The speed, the danger, the thrill, the competition…’s something that some don’t understand and others can’t live without. No driver gets in the car wanting to die, but I can guarantee you that most drivers, if they could choose, would prefer to die in a sprint car. These cars aren’t made to be “safe”, they are made to be raced. Most drivers take the precautions to try to prevent injuries. Unfortunately, some crashes can’t be prevented, nor can death be avoided. If a driver becomes scared of death, it’s time to hang up the steering wheel because fear ends in disaster on the track.

  5. Safety improvements have been made. A weight rule was formed, bladders are used. USAC requires the use of a head and neck restraint (other series, i agree, should as well). The drag-link strap was implemented after Kevin Gobrecht was killed. Sprint cars are not “unsafe”. Like all forms of motorsports, they are dangerous, but they are not unsafe.

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      Dalton, Thanks for your comments and the info. I’m glad USAC has required the head and neck restraints. I believe that should be common across the board. My point wasn’t that sprint car racing is “unsafe” – but rather that it could and must be made safer in whatever ways are possible. I hope you will continue to be a fan of RaceChaser Online and tell all your friends about us! Agreement with me or any of our other staff bloggers is not required. 🙂

      1. STOP already. I remember the days when the conversation on Monday morning used to be “who got hurt or killed this weekend”. Well not that openly but death was a more regular thing. Every racer knows the chances, I know of a couple who have quit and walked away because that aspect of the sport really got in their heads. For them it was the right thing to do. There isn’t room in a sprinter for a “full containment NASCAR style seat”.

        While we’re at it let’s make skydiving safer. We all know that if it wasn’t for the unfortunate accident that Jason Lefler had, Kramer’s deal wouldn’t be a blip on the radar. But Lefler was a “NASCAR star” — few people know that he was offered a “start and park” ride for the rest of the season, but that wasn’t his style and as easy as that would have been and its financial security a big plus — he decided he would rather race for the win.

        It’s time lots of people realized that death is a sure thing, nobody gets out alive, it’s a question of how, when and where. And I’m sure that Kramer slid into the gates of heaven with a smile on his face saying to St. Pete -“WOW, what a ride”

  6. Obviously the writer of this article has no clue what racing is all about. It’s a passionate sport and the point is to go as fast as you can to beat the other guy. Lack of safety is the risk every driver takes every time they crawl in or on anything to race someone else. Speed kills. We know that. Speed and competition also deliver a rush and and a feeling of being do alive that you can’t get from too many other things. NASCAR is so much safer? Because there’s less deaths? No shit. There’s 43 guys that race NASCAR on one night at the most. There’s thousands of dirt tracks around the country with usually 2 or more divisions with 20 or more cars in each division. Your (the writer) probably just jealous because you haven’t got the sack to drive a race car so you just want to bash the sport every time someone gets hurt or dies. It’s a very sad thing to lose a race car driver. Kramer Williamson was a favorite of mine and he, along with Leffler and any other driver who passes on or off the track, will be sadly missed. But we assume the risk every time we put a helmet on and pull a set of belts tight. Racing is not the safest thing to do but every racer knows and understands the risks. So why don’t you write your stupid little articles on something you might know something about.

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      Brandon, I’m very disappointed in you, man. Didn’t anyone tell you that questioning one’s sack size and calling them jealous went out in 7th grade? Next time please try to actually have a point.

    2. Brandon, any point you had was lost with you crappy delivery. I agree with the article or at least with the idea of starting conversation. We need more safety in winged sprint cars. Bottom line. We’ve lost 3 drivers this year and injured many more.

      And do yourself a favor. Don’t accuse me of not knowing about racing or you might end up looking silly. Next time try a little class and your point will be better recieved.

  7. I hear what you are saying HOWEVER, social media has put this at the forefront. You hear about it more now, then before due to twitter, facebook, blogs, updates, the list goes on and on. Are there more deaths now? Or are we just hearing about it. Everyone has a facebook account, most people can get on the internet, so I say no more are dying now, than before, we are just hearing about it more now… Back when NASCAR was going 220 mph at the Dega, there were rarely deaths… However it was boring, so what did NASCAR do, they made them more competitive… running closer together, restrictor plate racing was born… we slowed the cars down and now have the COT… more wrecks now than before… That is just the tip of the iceburg… So that brings us to sprint car racing… Cars were too fast, too light, bigger drivers complained… so we made them MORE EVEN… seems like a trend here… WE the people are unhappy, or the sanctioning bodies are unhappy with the spread out racing so we bunch them up… make em run in a crowd… what does that cause? more accidents… SO, here we are at an crossroads… spread em out, or make em run in a crowd??? NOW, the situation at hand… In America we blame everyone but the victim… then we make everyone else pay for THEIR mistake… I guess it’s the bleeding heart mentality of the good ole USA… NOW, I love my country but we have become overly sensitive in somethings and desensitized in others… NOW we can see a bunch of people blown up and it’s still shocking BUT, it happens now… So we blame guns… not the mentally ill person behind it… NOW we are blaming tracks, track conditions, safety crews… I’m sure Tony could afford the top of the line seat… IF it wasn’t in the car… WHY??? Kramer sustained blunt force trauma to the spine… same with Jason… There is a small bar that could be put in place to prevent this… When is the last time a dirt modefied or late model driver died??? Sprint cars are sprint cars… they are dangerous… I know I drive one… we are trying to save weight so we don’t run as much safety equipment as we should… It’s MY choice… I do agree that the tracks have to step up A BIT… also the drivers do as well… Maybe we need just a bar across the top of the car… like they do in wingless events… I’ve been hit in the shoulder by a wheel, hit in the neck with a piece of aluminum bar, and banged my knees on the roll cage… And still I get back in the car… WHY? not for the money, for the love of the sport… Maybe a couple of changes here and there… Your post is the most sensible one I’ve read to date… Others are attacking Sprint car racing… Just a rant from a simple man…

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      Mike, Thanks for your comments – I appreciate you insight as a racer. Thank you for the compliment as well – I would NEVER attack sprint car racing (I grew up with Supermodifieds and Sprint Cars and such up north). It’s because I LOVE it so much that I believe everything possible should be done to make it as safe as one reasonably can. Thanks for reading – hope you become a fan of and help us spread the word!

      1. I suggest Brandon goes and changes his diaper, he is getting a little cranky.
        Tom, I thought your article was well written and had a lot of valid points. All forms of racing is dangerous and some more that others. If you look back to the late 90’s and early 2000’s we did have a number of racing fatalities in all 3 of NASCAR’s upper divisions. After Dale’s death NASCAR stepped in and spent a ton of money developing safety for NASCAR racing including cars, seats, safety gear and most importantly safer race tracks. And now millions of dollars later NASCAR is the safest form of racing today.
        Now unfortunately there is a lot of talent that is running on the short tracks of America that could do just as good and the Johnson’s Gordon’s and Stewart’s but will never get a chance so they are racing within what they can afford and having fun.
        Sprint cars are one thrilling race car to drive and also one of the most dangerous, but they don’t have to be a suicide mission. There are things we can do to make it safer.
        One of the biggest problems that I see today is the safety of the short tracks. Most tracks are struggling to stay open and there is no extra funding for added safety around the race track. We can only do the best with what we can all afford.
        Let do our best to get it safer.

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    2. As far as extra bars and such, I know many drivers don’t use them while some add extra bars, straps, etcetc. here and there. The recurring theme, which as a driver I am sure you know, is the driver can’t get out of the car as quickly. As Kramer was a welder, and built many frames, if a bar was there or not there it was because he wanted it to be that way.

      People above are saying that the cars are so much faster now than they were 25-30 years ago. That is true, but they are also HELL of a lot safer in many, many ways.

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