By David G. Firestone
The NASCAR and NHRA seasons started up again. The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series started their new season with the Winternationals at Ponoma, and The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series had the Advance Auto Parts Clash. The Clash was a pleasure to watch, and I had a great time watching it, and the qualifying for the Daytona 500.
But the NHRA was marred with a decent amount of engine explosions and crashes. On Friday, John Force suffered an engine explosion, and was taken to the hospital for observation. The worst one of the bunch was Brittany Force. On Sunday, during her first elimination round against Terry Haddock, Force suffered a scary crash. While she escaped serious injury, she was taken to a local hospital for observation.
While both are fine, it should be noted that the NHRA made the correct decision to err on the side of caution, and send both to the hospital for observation. The safety culture of racing is always improving, and this is another example. Concussion protocol needs to be in all sports, not just contact ones. Brain damage is a dangerous thing, and the will to compete can and will override the fear of further damage.
The ability of race car drivers to compartmentalize has been well documented. When the driver climbs into the car, every other worry goes out the window. The driver is solely focused on the race. In a situation where a driver has a concussion, whether they realize it or not, that mindset can be dangerous, and maybe even fatal. In some situations, the driver has to be forced out of the car, for their own good.
Let’s go back to 1996, specifically the Save Mart Supermarkets 300 at Sonoma, then Sears Point. Ricky Craven had suffered a wreck at Talladega the previous week. While Craven suffered a concussion, he decided that racing for the championship was more important than being healthy. The original plan for Sears Point was for Craven to race the first lap, and was supposed to be replaced by Ron Horniday Jr. after the first lap. He raced a second lap, and was promptly black flagged, and was replaced. Similarly, in 2014, Angelle Sampey suffered an off-track injury in Las Vegas, and the pain and damage forced her to withdraw from the event, and she missed the rest of the 2014 season.
Auto Racing is one of, if not the most dangerous sports for competitors, and safety should be the main focus. Don’t listen to the fans, do what is best for the drivers. No real race fan wants to see a driver die. IndyCar and F1 have learned this lesson the hard way in the last few years, and I hope that most sanctioning bodies do what they have to to keep from learning the hard way.