Is it just me, or has this been an exceptionally bad year for deaths in the motorsports community? Allan Simonson at Le Mans, Sean Edwards at a private coaching event, Jason Leffler in Midget cars, Josh Burton in Sprint cars, Andrea Antonelli in motorcycle racing, and Maria de Villota from injuries sustained in her 2012 accident.
And don't forget other freakish accidents and deaths: the course worker run over at the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, Dario Franchitti's terrible wreck at Houston or Justin Wilson's t-bone accident at Fontana, even Tony Stewart's Sprint car wreck.
I think 2013 was worse than years past. So why?
Given all the attention paid to making the cars safer (especially in IndyCar since Dan Wheldon's death in 2011), I think it's just the law of averages.
I know that drivers think it won't happen to them—I mean, they have to believe that to get in the car and do their jobs. But I have to believe that some of the losses (especially of Sean Edwards, who I believe would have been racing with the team at Petit, but instead was there on the car above), hit particularly close to home. Or maybe they'll chalk that one up to letting someone else get behind the wheel with you in the car.
Dr. Jim Norman, who's a racer and doctor, among other pursuits, is passionate about the need for safer tracks. In the wake of Edwards' death, he added more information to his article on the why of racing deaths, including one tidbit that surprised me: gravel traps get less and less effective the faster a car is going. If a car is going really fast, they'll skip right over the top of the gravel and hardly be slowed down. Which of course renders them useless for situations in which they're the most necessary.
I met Jim at Petit (photo above), and he was passionate about the need for racetracks to update their safety features. In this day and age, he argues, drivers take plenty of risks, but they shouldn't need to take the risk of running head-first into a concrete wall or a tree, and many tracks are still constructed in that fashion (Road Atlanta included, such as the runoff from Turn 1, where there's grass leading to a wall lightly rimmed in tires).
On one hand, I can hear some of the old-timers saying they didn't need those things when they raced (like they say/complain about lights at the Daytona 24). And I can understand the dilemma of the racetracks, who aren't scurrying to fix these turns and walls, because those are huge costs to compensate for something that's already inherently dangerous. On the other hand, shouldn't we do everything we can to make sure drivers don't die?
I just hope 2014 isn't as traumatic and deadly.