A Voice for the Fans ~ The Luck of Austin Theriault
I bid you welcome gentle readers, and a cordial “Howdy” to our assigned NASCAR reader of the day. This column will be easy on everyone, as it’s not the regular one that goes on forever, but a reminder of something of utmost importance, just in case you missed it.
Do you all recall a column I wrote in early October concerning the hard crash of young Austin Theriault into the unforgiving concrete wall at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? At the time, I commented on being scared because of the cuts and bruises on the young man’s head and face. Well, according to an article written by Bob Pockrass after an interview with Brad Keselowski, truck owner of the #29 driven by Theriault, there was definite reason for concern. Austin did suffer a compression fracture of his lower spine, but it could have been so very much worse!
In Keselowski’s words:
"We learned that we know a lot less about safety than we thought we did, and that's very scary. ... The HANS device broke; his helmet took major impact. The steering wheel broke part of his helmet. All major impact areas."
"The transmission and bell housing came into the cockpit. These are major issues that we just got really lucky on. Point-blank... anything else goes a little bit further, and he's not standing here."
Now you see why the facial injuries caused concern for your scribe and why I felt there must be more to the story than what we had been told. Now the other shoe has dropped and we do know more, though what we learned is of no comfort. It only adds an exclamation point to the fact that racing will never be truly “Safe!” It is by nature, a dangerous sport; a contact sport conducted at high speeds, and the most fragile part of that racecar is the human life behind the steering wheel.
Investigations are ongoing. HANS Performance Products issued a statement shortly after the crash:
"We have learned that the right side tether carrier on Austin Theriault's HANS device cracked during his violent collision in Las Vegas," the company said. "The HANS device did its job protecting his head and neck, as it has in thousands of racing crashes. We are pleased that Austin was not further injured."
That’s all well and good, and I do wish them well, but the fact remains, the HANS device is not supposed to break.
"I've heard of [the HANS] cracking, not breaking," Keselowski said. "His was cracked and broke. That's pretty severe. He had the same interior in his truck that I have in my Cup car."
Gentle readers, I’d say that for sure Austin’s crash and injury has gotten the attention of at least one Cup driver, in a very close and personal way. Yes, excepting the outer shape, the cockpits of the trucks and the Cup cars are almost identical… and when something gets Brad’s attention, it likely will also get the attention of “The Captain”, Roger Penske, Brad’s car owner.
Team Penske has sent a team along with a team from NASCAR, to the University of Nebraska, whose Midwest Roadside Safety Facility consults with NASCAR on crash data. They will recreate the crash, seeking to further identify what went wrong and what steps can be taken to prevent it from reoccurring. That part is in good hands, and Austin Theriault, as Keselowski cited, was one lucky young man.
Remember this map from earlier in the year? The arrows indicate the area of Theriault’s crash. Though Las Vegas Motor Speedway is woefully short of SAFER barriers on the inside, they did have a major portion of the outer wall protected. Looking at this map has to make anyone wonder why they chose to leave that one small spot undone. Did it spoil some driver’s “line” around the track? This lady would give a pretty penny to know whose idea it was not to do that spot! Oh, but fear not. Right after Austin tested that piece of concrete and lost, LVMS assured us that it was already on the schedule to cover that little spot of unforgiving concrete.
Yes, sure… anything you say… but it’s still a case of locking the barn door right after the horse was stolen. C’mon Bruton, Marcus, whoever, we, the fans that care, fervently hope that you have in mind adding a whole lot more SAFER around that track and not just that little mistake that very easily could have killed someone.
Several of the ISC tracks are now protected fully, and others are moving in that direction. We’ve even heard something encouraging about your sister track in Texas. Remember, Brian France says, “Safety always comes first with NASCAR. It has to.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!