A Voice for the Fans ~ Talladega: Too Much of a Bad Thing
I bid you welcome gentle readers to an article on a subject I had hoped never to visit again, but NASCAR made me do it. If they don’t like what I write about it, they can buy the website and fire me. They have that sort of control over most media outlets, but they cannot control the wrath of an old lady when aroused. They can sue me for all I have, but their disappointment will be great because one cannot get blood from a stone. To our assigned reader of all things NASCAR, by all means stick around and enjoy the fireworks.
It’s only Monday as I pull up to the keyboard, and already my mail has been far more plentiful than other Mondays, filled with questions from readers about my thoughts on Sunday’s fiasco (I cannot and will not call that a race) at Talladega Superspeedway. Last week, these pages held a column about the supposed curse on the big track, and Sunday, Brian set out to add another chapter. It is only by the grace of God that he failed, as there were enough wrecks and cars sprouting wings to easily have killed someone. Brian France calls that “close racing.” Note the quotation marks. It’s the sort of racing he wants more of and is working to achieve.
Chris Buescher Flies in First Big One
I am told, though I refuse to go look for myself, that on some forums out there dedicated to NASCAR racing, some folks are saying it was the best race they’ve seen in a long time. That just makes my stomach turn. Something is wrong… very, very wrong with the sort of brain that would see near-death experiences as “fun.” Maybe it’s a generational thing and they are too young to understand or grasp the finality of death. It’s not reversible kids, and that’s not a video game they’re playing out there on the track. It’s time to grow up and become part of the real world. Life doesn’t come with a reset button. Death is permanent and brings sorrow and grief to all of those left behind.
The next thing we’ll hear is the now familiar cry, “But the cars are so much safer now!” Well, they are safer than when NASCAR entered this game back in the 1940s, but here is a truth that even Brian cannot dispute. Auto racing is inherently dangerous. It is not and never will be “SAFE!” Safe racing is a total oxymoron and will remain so until the end of time. That is simply fact!
Kenseth Flips as Patrick Is Ablaze
Let me explain something to everyone, in case there are some that have never heard this message. This scribe has fought for years for safety improvements, both in the cars and on the racetracks. In my many years as a race fan, I’ve seen far too many men die because this or that device had not yet been invented, or worse yet, was available but not in use. All of the reactive safety measures we see today were paid for with someone’s life, or even worse, with many lives. NASCAR doesn’t always get it the first time around. In the last spate of on-track deaths they pretty much ignored the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Tony Roper, who all died in the same year, 2000, of the same injury, basal skull fracture. (Note: A “kill switch” on the steering wheel does nothing to change the angle of impact, absorb energy or soften the blow)
It wasn’t until that same injury was sustained and claimed the life of the sport’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt that driver safety became a priority with the sanctioning body, in a hurry to lock that barn door once the horse had been stolen. Of course, they had to attempt to blame it all on Bill Simpson’s safety equipment first, but Dale was still dead and the fans were not only heartbroken, but shell-shocked and angry. The HANS device, which surely should have been mandated after the death of Adam Petty, finally became mandatory after Dale’s death. SAFER barriers wouldn’t bow in for another year when they first appeared at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 1992 Indy 500.
Even then, they were difficult to procure and expensive as well, so after the initial round of installations at supposedly “likely” crash spots, the fans were lulled into believing that those barriers were also mandatory, like the HANS device, but as we’ve learned over the past year or more, that was never the case. When we came so very close to losing Kyle Busch in the Xfinity race the week before the 2015 Daytona 500, the spotlight was once again squarely on safety and on the lack of those barriers. The amount of them has improved at most tracks, though there are still some that think they are above caring about the lives of drivers. Unless something has occurred that no one has put on record, Las Vegas and Indianapolis head that list.
While it’s true that safety measures on the tracks are slowly improving, there are still gates that could and should be tunnels, and those gates will catch and tear a car to shreds. There is no possible way to cover them with SAFER. It’s just not made to swing back and forth. There are still pit walls with exposed butt ends that can and have killed in their time. Sand or water barrels seem markedly primitive in this age of technology. Tires in that situation are likely to do more harm than good, rebounding a contacting vehicle back into lanes of oncoming traffic. SAFER needs a broader surface of contact in order to be effective. Mr. France, are you having research done to solve those problems?
Moving to the inside of the car, yes, we have the HANS device; we have the seven-point harness; we have the molded carbon fiber seats; we have strong window nets that keep head and limbs within the car; we have bladders in the fuel tank and most of the time, we have those cars on safe tires. Then only this Sunday, we saw the second instance this year of a driver attempting to steer a car with no steering wheel attached to the column. No matter what is fixed or what is in place, there will always be a new demon to face. Some call it Murphy’s Law; others just call it life.
The point that is being made here is that after all of the things that have been done to protect a driver, in the event of a crash, rollover, barrel roll, fire or whatever else might befall the car, the weakest point in that vehicle is, has always been and will always be the human being inside. Too many forget the value of that human life as they claim to enjoy something such as we saw Sunday at Talladega. Without the driver, that car is just a hunk of whatever composite they make them from nowadays. I cannot count the millions of dollars in damage was done to the cars as wreck after wreck occurred, but Associated Press spent the time and money to do so. According to their estimates it was in excess of TEN MILLION DOLLARS! Are we having fun yet?
Last Lap! Who Thinks Kevin Harvick Was Enjoying This?
I’m ashamed for those calling themselves “fans” that enjoyed the show, but then, there were those that enjoyed seeing Christians fed to lions at one time, so I guess that ghoulishness is inherent in some folks.
Mr. France, if you truly enjoy that sort of mayhem, then perhaps you’ve answered your own question as to what happened to all the fans that used to fill seats in all of your “stadiums.” It’s a fact Sir; not every human being salivates and quivers at the prospect of imminent death or dismemberment. Most of us in fact, are just the opposite. We, the fans that care, enjoy sports but empathize with the participants. When they hurt, we feel their pain, and the possibility of losing any one of them is a scary thing indeed. We don’t watch to see injury and we certainly don’t watch to see death. Too many of those wrecks on Sunday could have precipitated that very result.
Plate racing is not “close racing;” it isn’t racing at all. It is total and complete manufactured mayhem that forces all cars on the track to run in packs like feral animal, where the slightest miscue by anyone sets off a chain reaction of destruction and injury. The fans that care are not thrilled or excited by that. Disgusted and dismayed would be a better definition of our feelings. Sometime before plate racing took his life, 7-time Champion Dale Earnhardt summed it up as clearly as anyone ever could. His words still echo today for those of us still missing that good man. “This sh** ain’t racin’!” No, it’s not, yet because it still exists, our hero, racing’s Man in Black now races only on Heaven’s Raceway.
Before we close this part of our discussion, one reader wrote that there seemed to be “no solution.” Excuse me? No solution? The following is part of the answer I wrote, and quite frankly what inspired this entire article.
No solution? Oh, that is rich! Of course there are solutions. They could eliminate half the banking. That would do it. They could eliminate it all, but we already have Pocono.
They could simply create a couple of chicanes or "bus stops" ala Watkins Glen. Sadly, that one only came to be after we lost J. D. McDuffie in the fifth turn... one of the ugliest accidents ever recorded... or, they could simply revert to using the road course that lies within the confines of the giant track. This scribe would so love the chance to mimic Ronald Reagan when saying, “Mr. France, tear down that banking!”
They could slow them sufficiently with aero changes to eliminate the flight problem and bring top speeds to a reasonable level without restrictor plates, which remain the culprit and go too often unmentioned. Too many fans just don't understand that speed is relative. If one car is going 200 mph and another is going 150 mph, the latter almost appears to be standing still by comparison. However, if all the cars are going 150 mph, the fans in the stands will see no perceivable difference between that and 200 mph. It's all relative. The important thing is not how fast the cars travel; it’s that the faster cars are able to pull away from the slower ones. In the days before the plates, there were still wrecks; someone is always going to slip up and do something wrong, but for the most part those wrecks involved far fewer cars than what we saw on Sunday.
Or, if none of those options please NASCAR, they could take the advice I’ve given for years; plow the big beast under and plant tobacco there, in grateful remembrance of R.J. Reynolds and all they did for the sport of stock car racing.
Now gentle readers, and not a moment too soon, it’s time for our Classic Country Closeout. Last week I told you that I had something special in store for my Country loving friends, and this is it. Recorded for our viewing and listening pleasure back in 1956, this sensational hour of songs performed live by Ray Price, Jim Reeves, and Ernest Tubb is done in living color, almost unknown at that time. Kick back and enjoy this wonderful presentation from three of Country Music’s very best.
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!