Daytona Speedweeks heralds in the NASCAR season each year. It is generally a fun-filled couple of weeks leading up to one of the most anticipated races of the year, the Daytona 500.
This year the celebration came to a grinding halt after a violent crash in the Nationwide Series race. Kyle Larson’s car went airborne in a last lap wreck that involved 12 cars. His engine ended up in the catchfence. A wheel assembly, pieces of the car and debris, went flying into the grandstands, injuring more than 30 people.
The NASCAR community responded immediately with concern for those injured amid vows by NASCAR to determine how this happened.
But I soon noticed a disturbing trend.
Those who asked how this could happen were met with an almost frenzied response by many. ‘This is not NASCAR’s fault,’ they said.’ Read the back of your ticket,’ they shouted. ‘Racing is a dangerous sport and fans accept that fact every time they attend a race.’
Tony Stewart, who won the race, was somber in victory lane and offered a different perspective.
“We always know that this is a dangerous sport. We assume that risk but it’s hard when fans get caught up in it,” Stewart said. “My concern is for the fans right now.”
When it was learned that a few of the injured individuals had contacted an attorney to explore legal options, some reacted with a verbal attack. ‘They aren’t true fans,’ many proclaimed. ‘Real fans accept the risks.’
Suddenly, in their eyes, being a NASCAR fan meant that you must pledge your unwavering support. I disagree.
I’m a huge proponent of NASCAR and I believe that safety is one of their primary concerns. They are constantly striving to make it as safe as possible, both for the drivers and the fans. Sometimes that means asking the hard questions.
Race enthusiasts know that the sport has inherent risks. There is no way to prepare for all of the things that can go wrong. When you attend a race, you do so realizing that there is an element of danger. But you also attend an event with the expectation that NASCAR has done everything possible to keep you safe.
When something goes horribly wrong as it did in the Nationwide Series race, it is not only proper but necessary to ask questions. Why did the engine separate from the car? Are the cars going too fast? Did the catch fence perform as it was intended? Does the crossover gate need to be redesigned or eliminated? What can we do to make sure this type of accident never happens again?
NASCAR began asking these questions immediately and I feel certain they will not rest until they have the answers. As fans, you should encourage them to do so.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president, met with the media Saturday, March 2nd, to give an update on their progress.
“As everybody knows,” he said, “safety is first and foremost not only for NASCAR and our racetracks, but getting that right and making sure our fans can enjoy the most safe and entertaining environment possible. I think our history speaks to that.”
“Moving forward,” he continued, “based on what happened in Daytona, we met immediately with the folks at Daytona International Speedway. We’ve had multiple meetings this week. It’s been a truly collaborative effort with the goal of doing two things: obviously looking at what happened in this incident, but more importantly the go-forward plan of what we can learn and what we want to implement as we go forward.
Asking questions does not mean that you are assigning blame. It means that as a reasonable individual you realize that it is almost impossible to foresee every possible contingency. That is why it is so important to examine this particular occurrence to learn from it and make the necessary adjustments.
Asking questions does not mean that you challenge NASCAR’s intentions or that you are any less of a fan. It simply means that you want NASCAR to be the best it can be. It’s reassuring to realize that NASCAR has the same goal.