Auto racing is an inherently dangerous sport, with drivers maneuvering cars and trucks through traffic around tracks at high speeds. Because of the risk of accidents and injuries, improving the safety of drivers is important.
That can be accomplished, at least in part, through technology and rules.
After Dale Earnhardt died during a head-on crash into a wall during the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR required its drivers to wear a head-and-neck restraint system to prevent basilar skull fractures — the cause of Earnhardt’s death.
More safety steps soon followed elsewhere in the auto racing world.
A soft wall, known as the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier, was installed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. The technology reduces the impact of crashes into walls, thus reducing the chances of serious injuries.
Now, some tracks and sanctioning bodies are mandating that drivers not leave their cars after accidents, unless the car is on fire or liquid is leaking.
This rule is in response to the Aug. 9 fatal accident at Canandaigua (New York) Motorsports Park, where Columbus native and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart struck and killed 20-year-old racer Kevin Ward Jr. during a sprint-car race on a dirt track. After his car was knocked out of commission, Ward exited it and walked down the track through oncoming traffic during a caution period to apparently confront Stewart. The right rear tire from Stewart’s car hit Ward, who died of blunt force trauma.
That is a tragedy.
If there’s any good that could possibly come from this, it would be that driver safety improves as more tracks implement rules that restrict drivers from exiting their cars after an accident.
Twin Cities Raceway Park in North Vernon has had this rule for several years, and the restriction already exists in the IndyCar series.
Within days of the incident that claimed Ward’s life, two tracks in New York added rules banning drivers from leaving their cars. NASCAR followed suit and implemented such a rule before the Aug. 17 Sprint Cup race in Brooklyn, Michigan.
These are smart decisions, which all auto-racing tracks and sanctioning bodies should institute. Too much is at stake not to: human lives.