In the Rearview Mirror: Tragedy and auto racing– a sad pairing

2005 "Official" Indy Car Championship Photo of Dan Wheldon
The passing of Indy Car driver Dan Wheldon has evoked those feelings that a race fan tries to hide: grief, sadness and maybe even anger and fear.

Wheldon's passing has proved one thing, the auto racing community truly is a family. Statements of condolences have poured in to remember and honor Wheldon, who just a few short months ago was atop the world after winning the Indianapolis 500.

Racers know the risks, we as fans know the risk. I think but often feel that it seems safety is taken for granted in the modern days of racing. Drivers kiss their wives, girlfriends and children before they strap into the driver's seat but that merely seems to be a pre-race ritual - they always return safe and sound, unscathed from the harm that could have awaited.

1998 Daytona 500 Winner Dale Earnhardt, Sr. (Credit: ISC Archives/Getty Images)
NASCAR: Bulky stock cars have been made much safer in recent years

The NASCAR community has come a long way since the tragic passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, NASCAR’s safety innovations has prevented countless drivers from tragedy. Just this past weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson hit the wall head on and afterwards said, "I'm just thankful to have safe race cars, safe walls, softer walls. Everything did its job. It was a pretty big impact."

The NASCAR community has been fortunate in the modern day but as you trace the roots of NASCAR, there have been a grand total of 52 fatalities in all the touring series. Drivers from the likes of Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Tiny Lund, Richie Evans, Adam Petty and most notably Dale Earnhardt Sr. all suffered the same horrifying fate.

After the 2001 death of Earnhardt Sr., NASCAR made drastic improvements to protect its drivers. SAFER barriers, head-and-neck restraints, better seats, a safer car and numerous other new safety features - NASCAR has made stock-car racing dramatically safer than it was then and safer than its ever been.

Indy Car: Open-wheel racing and far greater risks

Stating the obvious, Indy Cars are open cars and the drivers are at much greater risk of serious injury or death. Not only that, there is often severe fires involved in the crashes.

Dan Wheldon is the fourth driver to die in the IRL series, he is preceded in death by Scott Brayton, Tony Renna and Paul Dana. All three of those drivers died during practice or testing sessions on track - Brayton and Renna (Indianapolis) and Dana (Homestead-Miami International Speedway). Dana’s crash in 2006 was the most recent fatality in the IRL series until now.

In a sad coincidence, Wheldon had been working with the IRL series to develop their 2012 car with improved driver safety features.

Where we go from here

As a race fan, I will forever and always tune into the sport I love.  However, after witnessing Dan Wheldon’s crash on TV and the aftermath on the internet, I have to say that I am a bit more concerned for ALL drivers.

The sight of the 15 car pile-up in the IRL race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway keeps airing repetitively on TV and knowing the devastating outcome, all I can ask – please take a  page from the history book. Do as NASCAR did, learn from the death of Earnhardt Sr. and do whatever it takes to ensure the drivers are protected. No one wants to attend a race to later go home and recall such a tragic event.

NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless.Amanda also expanded her area of coverage to include exclusive interviews, brought straight to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here.. Feel free to follow and contact Amanda via Twitter.
In the Rearview Mirror: Tragedy and auto racing– a sad pairing In the Rearview Mirror: Tragedy and auto racing– a sad pairing Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 Rating: 5