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