Can Driver Safety and Speed Work Together?
Lots of talk has been heard the past year or so regarding driver safety, and I do agree that it should be paramount in racing on all levels. After all, we have seen a few drivers in all forms of racing that had careers cut short and even lost their lives due to safety concerns or lack of following protocol.
In dirt racing it has been a hard row to hoe recently, getting drivers to take the first steps in protecting themselves, BUT it has started, with lots of the younger drivers stepping up and using Head and Neck Restraints and better belts. This is a huge step in the right direction.
Now in NASCAR it has been pretty quiet really since Dale Sr. passed and the discussions about belts, belt mounts, helmets, and impacts.
NASCAR drivers do race at higher speeds in general, but they also have vastly more stringent inspections on this equipment on a weekly basis. Also at the top level of racing such as NASCAR, the cost of these systems and equipment isn’t in play as much as it is at lower levels.
Recently Chase Elliott made a statement that seems to have ruffled a few feathers. He said “You’re paid to go fast so let’s go fast,” he said. “It’s not fun hitting something real hard anytime you do and certainly isn’t going to feel good when you do it at these speeds. Definitely, it’s physical for sure and I think this is going to be a very physical race on Sunday, especially if the sun comes out and it’s hot. It’s fast. Is it too fast? Like I said, this is our job, what we sign up for and I think it is what it is.” Now some have taken this and run with it in the media, trying to slant it that Chase was disregarding the safety aspect of the sport. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Chase is a racer who has grown up around this sport, competing in all forms from karts to Cup, he has paid his dues to say what he said. He is speaking from the heart, basically saying “if you want to race, then come on let’s race; it’s the same for everyone”
The young man is wise beyond his years, with an understanding of the sport and what it involves more than lots of them out there holding wheels each week. Seeing this quiet laid back young driver make a statement like this, made me smile. I mean made me smile big. He gets it! Yes racing is dangerous, yes racing can take your life. It has in the past, and unfortunately it will again in the future, but this driver has taken a stand, no excuses, for how he sees racing.
One of the things that really made me smile, was his approach to it. He “spoke softly and carried a big stick” to quote former President Theodore Roosevelt. He didn’t jump up screaming and hollering; no, he put thought into his statement and calmly made it. As I said before, wise beyond his years. But you can truly see this “apple didn’t fall far from the tree”, as he follows somewhat in his father's footsteps but taking his own path. Making his own way unlike some sons of former drivers who have had to rely on their name more so than their skills and talent.
It’s no secret that I was a rabid Bill Elliott fan, I can’t tell you the amount of time I have spent in the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame standing next to the cars Bill raced, or standing looking at his trophies that are there. So yeah I was thrilled when Chase made the move to Cup. If you’re a regular listener to my show’ The Mitch Walker Show on Performance Motorsports Network’ you know I stated on my show 2 months before it happened that Chase would take Jeff Gordon’s place at Hendrick, I was thrilled to see his success and his performance on the cup level. The old statement of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, and Amazing Chase from the same place” was special to me. This young man is the real deal, and he is just getting started, his parents standing beside him in all he does, his fans becoming as rabid as they were for his dad… Yeah this kid is going places… like to the top!