Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wrap Them Up in Cotton Wool

by Tammy

Watching Twitter during a race has to be almost as fascinating as watching the race itself—especially if it's NASCAR, and especially when there are wrecks.

NASCAR was at Daytona last weekend, which means restrictor plate racing (which I still don't understand the fun of) and the possibility of "the big one" because the cars are all bunched together with only parking-lot spacing between them as they do something like 200 m.p.h. Saturday night for the Cup race, there were a number of "big ones"—including two on the last lap alone.

But it was the big one that collected (and bounced and shredded) Denny Hamlin's car that was probably the most scary, given that he's wrecked badly already this season and hurt his back. (He seems to be fine; certainly he got out of the car and walked to the ambulance on his own steam.)

Two points about that accident stood out to me:

  1. It reminded me a lot of the kind of impact Dale Earnhardt had in his fatal wreck just a few hundred yards away, but with a dramatically different result. (Watch Hamlin's crash Saturday, and Earnhardt's crash in 2001.)
  2. Twitter lit up with the information that where Hamlin crashed, there were no SAFER barriers installed. Lots of people were outraged over that fact, and I gather that there were probability studies done about where they were most needed at Daytona International Speedway, and not every location around the 2.5 mile oval made the cut.
Here's my basic question: how much should tracks and series and organizing bodies try to protect drivers from impact?

That's going to sound harsh, and of course I don't want anyone seriously hurt. But should Daytona have SAFER barriers on both sides of the track, all the way around? Should Le Mans tear out trees along Tetre Rouge and put in more spongy barriers so that someone like Allan Simonsen isn't killed running into it? Should IndyCar or F1 cars have kevlar bubbles over the cockpit so no one's hurt like Felipe Massa or killed like Dan Wheldon? At what level of racing should the safest-possible seat (or belts or helmet or whatever) be mandated, so more aren't killed as Jason Leffler was? 

Do we wrap them up in cotton wool, these racing drivers? Where do we draw the line of trying to make an inherently dangerous activity safe? I don't know the answer....

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