Geoff’s Journal: Safety and racing
Photo by Todd Warshaw / NASCAR via Getty Images
Trevor Bayne's No. 6 Advocare Ford sits on the apron at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2014.
We’ve seen some hard, unfortunate accidents in NASCAR this season. Wrecks in the first three weeks of the season and this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway have brought up more conversations about safety and innovation within NASCAR.
From day one, I had the safest seat possible when I drove inside a racecar. I had one that wrapped around the sides. They were fiberglass at the time and ran with a steel frame to make it safer. If you look at old pictures of me racing, I wore a full-face helmet very early in my career.
I was always concerned about the safety and dangers racing presented. When I moved south to run Winston Cup and the late model series, I brought those things with me. My first racecar didn't have power steering in it, so I brought that with me also. Now is that a safety feature? Maybe not but it was more for making the car easier on set up and handling. I've always felt safe being behind the wheel of a racecar, especially in ones that I built or had any involvement in building.
Photo by Robert Laberge / NASCAR via Getty Images
Kasey Kahne's wreck at Michigan International Speedway in June 2013.
Now I've driven in some at some short tracks, where I probably shouldn't have been in them. That's back when I was younger and crazier. NASCAR's up to speed on safety. The driver can feel the difference when hitting a soft wall compared to a concrete wall, that's for sure. With NASCAR, they have a measuring device in all the cars to measure the impact in accidents.
When you hit something, especially at an angle, you rebound, or recoil. A rebound at an opposite or near-opposite direction is very dangerous. Soft walls have defiantly reduced the shock of an impact and amount of change in angle after impact.
It's terrible what happened with Kyle Busch. It's very unfortunate, but very common, that we improve things after something happens. My brother Brett is involved with NASCAR in going to the racetracks and look closely at where the soft walls need to be and how they need to be installed. They recommend them to the racetracks. But even with the expertise; ex-drivers, promoters, consultants and so forth, they can still miss a spot where a car may ricochet into.
There were no soft walls in place or no HANS Device requirements when I wrecked in Daytona in 2000. By the time the accident was over, the whole front of the vehicle was chopped up. The top of the roll car was missing; all but one little bar. But the seat was intact and the belts were intact, and I always had a hand or two in mounting the seat and the belts. In that case, I did it.
The fencing and cables kept me from going into the grandstands and killing people, which is a blessing. But the cables aren't driver and racecar friendly. They destroyed the vehicle I was in.
So to survive that kind of accident, there's no question in my mind you have to have another power there, a divine power. God was protecting me, with his angels, because there's no other way I could have survived it. All of NASCAR's safety equipment is necessary and does save driver's lives almost weekly from injuries and sometimes death. But in my case, it was truly divine intervention and I'm very thankful, very blessed, that I was chosen to be saved.
I don't remember if it was a publication or if it was on television, but some fans were saying "NASCAR has become too safe." Excuse me, but it can never be too safe. Kyle Busch's accident proved that; Jeff Gordon's had some bad crashes and has injured his back, and that's something that will be with him for the rest of his life.
NASCAR strives to make the racing too safe, but unfortunately, when it seems like everything's under control and everything's the way it should be, something else happens and the sanctioning body has to address the issue. We want action, yes, and the occasional spin and side-by-side racing but some race fans like for bad things to happen. I don't know if they really mean it or what the comments are all about, but NASCAR and the NASCAR community NEVER wants people to get hurt.