Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Price You Pay

This past weekend at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, we witnessed one of the more horrific accidents in NASCAR history within the final 100 yards of the Nationwide Series season opener. While the accident on the track we have seen before, it's what happened in the grandstands that made it horrific.

For those that missed it, or haven't seen it yet, it looked something like this:

And this:

As Kyle Larson's (#32) car was sent flying into the catch fence that separates the cars from the spectators, it came apart on and debris, including the entire front third of the car with engine, was sent flying into the stands. By the time the final count was issued, 28 spectators were injured and some were worse than others. Thankfully, no one was killed. 

By the end of the day, many were calling for NASCAR to rethink the safety of their fans when it comes to keeping what goes on on the track...on the track. Personally, I feel that's just the risk you take when attending a NASCAR race.

First, let me debunk of few your rebuttals. Yes, I have been to a NASCAR race. In fact, I lost count after 20. Yes. I have been to Daytona...I understand the speed. Yes. I have sat down close to the track for a race. Well, it wasn't NASCAR, but I sat five rows from the track with my Dad for 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. The cars were going 220 MPH when they passed at the point where we were sitting on the track.

Now that that's out of the way, let me just say that when you spend the hundreds of dollars that it takes to sit that close to a NASCAR race at Daytona, you got to know what you're getting yourself into. It's restrictor plate racing which means the speeds are going to be high and the risk for cars getting airborne are significantly higher there than at any other track.

Also, it's the very end of the race. Do people honestly expect these drivers to think twice when the checkered flag is in the air? Following the race, I heard one driver tell a reporter that as soon they saw smoke and realized there was no way to avoid it, they just put their foot down and hoped for the best. The guy that "caused" it, Regan Smith (#7), himself said that he wouldn't change a thing when it comes to how he handled the situation (he threw a block on Brad Kesolowski that turned Smith sideways and kicked off the melee).

Wrecking is a part of the sport. Unfortunately, it's a glorified part of the sport and it's why most Americans watch. When you go to a race, it's the nature of the beast and it's going to happen. When you purchase a ticket to sit that close to the action, you have to understand the risks that come with sitting that close.

There's only one way to make the fans completely safe and that's to end the sport altogether (something I don't think very many fans, including myself, want). Simply moving fans away from the track will only do so much. It's amazing how far a piece of sheet-metal will go when it is flung at 200 miles per hour.

NASCAR has already slowed the cars down by using restrictor plates. Slowing them down much more will make the race painfully long and boring and we may see fans from the freeway drive right onto the track and race with them.

The catch fence did exactly what it was supposed to do: catch the car. What if the catch fence had failed? Hundreds of people would have died as Kyle Larson's car would've flown into the grandstands at 200 miles per hour. People thought that the 28 injured (none dead) was bad. In my opinion, while unfortunately 28 people did suffer because of the crash, nobody died. It may sound insensitive, but, I think we need to look at the positives here and count our blessings.

On SportsCenter Sunday morning, NASCAR was under fire due to the danger that the sport brings to it's fans. Are people just now figuring out that 43 race cars going as fast as they can with one goal in mind, being winning, and doing whatever it takes to accomplish that goal is dangerous?

NASCAR has, and always will be, a dangerous sport. It's the nature of the beast and it's one that apparently many people need to come to grips with. While it may never be 100% safe, I feel that NASCAR has made many great strides since the death of Dale Earnhardt in making it safer for everyone involved from the fans, to the drivers, to even the pit crews.

So instead of criticizing NASCAR for the lives that were affected by the crash, praise NASCAR for the lives that were spared by the safety precautions that have been put in place since 2001. While it may not have seemed like it this past weekend, they worked.