SBD/February 27, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Exec Details Investigation Into Track Fencing After Daytona Crash

NASCAR's insurance company will help dictate the next step in the investigation
NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell yesterday said that the organization has launched a "far-reaching investigation into track fencing and the circumstances that led to the injuries of at least 28 fans" during Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona Int'l Speedway, according to a front-page piece by Ames Alexander of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. O’Donnell: “This was a rare instance but certainly it’s something we’ve got to look at and fix. ... If this is something we can improve, we certainly want to do that.” O’Donnell added that while it is "still early in NASCAR’s investigation, it appears so far that all of the debris came through the fence rather than over it.” Experts at NASCAR’s R&D center in Concord, N.C., have been “asked to help conduct that review.” O’Donnell: “We’ll pull in experts on fencing, and we’ll look at what new technologies may be available. If there’s something out there, we’ll find it.” Purdue Univ. Motorsports Dir and racing safety expert Danny White said that he “has been asked to examine a new Plexiglass-like material that is said to have enormous strength.” O’Donnell said that he “expects NASCAR’s investigation will be similar in scope to the extensive review that went into the development of so-called ‘soft walls,’ track walls that are designed to protect drivers by absorbing the impact from crashes, such as the one that killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001.” O’Donnell: “At every one of our tracks, fan safety is first and foremost. We want to get it right. Without our fans, we don’t have a sport" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/27).

GOING TO GREAT HEIGHTS? SPORTING NEWS’ Bob Pockrass noted it will be up to NASCAR, DIS officials and their insurance companies to “decide to what to do next” in their investigation into Saturday’s crash. The Wheeler Co. Chair & former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler said that with no governmental oversight of how tracks keep fans safe, NASCAR and the insurance companies “dictate the standards for fencing for NASCAR races.” He said, “It’s what the insurance company dictates. And there is an unwritten group of laws among the speedways. If (a track) opened and I saw their wheel fence was six feet high, I would take it upon myself to go see the owners and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to put us all out of business.’ While that sounds like a crude, loose form of regulation, it really isn’t. It’s really powerful, as a matter of fact." Pockrass noted most of the debris flew through the fence, not over it. Wheeler said that this is a “good thing in the sense that tracks likely won’t feel compelled to add to the height of the fencing.” He added, “If it had gone over the fence, in all likelihood they’d be working on Phoenix right now as we speak in an all-out rush to try to get it (higher for this weekend)” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 2/26).

ANOTHER LOOK: An ORLANDO SENTINEL editorial states, “Despite the bravado expressed by some attendees, fan safety needs to be as big a priority as driver safety.” NASCAR should “examine whether safer, more high-tech solutions are available to replace the chain-link fencing and cables that protect fans from cars.” It also should examine “whether fan seating is too close to the track.” The editorial: “We’re not pretending to be experts in auto-racing safety, but after what happened last week, we’re certain it needs another look” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/27).
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