SBD/August 12, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Death Of Sprint Car Driver Could Prompt Rule Changes In NASCAR, Other Series

Proposed changes would penalize drivers who leave their car during a caution
The death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. on Saturday night has "prompted suggestions that rules are needed that keep drivers in their cars under caution until safety personnel arrive," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. At least two dirt tracks in New York made changes yesterday, as Brewerton Speedway and Fulton Speedway "announced in a website release that drivers would be required to stay in their cars" following an accident. If a driver were to "exit the car during a yellow, the race would be placed under a red flag, and the penalty could include a fine or suspension." But there is an "entertainment component to driver altercations, which often are used by speedways in promotions geared toward selling tickets." Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said that he would "support a rule that would limit the opportunity for such fracases." Gossage: "That is just common sense to have a rule that says guys stay in your cars. Obviously safety trumps entertainment. We can joke and carry on about it, but safety, safety, safety. It's a no-brainer in that regard" (USA TODAY, 8/12). North Carolina-based Carolina Speedway Promoter Clint Elkins said, "All of the people in the industry will try to learn from this. I'm sure this will prompt rule changes across the board." Former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler said that he "recommends drivers exit wrecked cars and stay beside them if they’re in a safe place near the edge of the track." Wheeler said that if the car is "in a dangerous spot ... drivers should move to the inside of the track when it is safe to do so." He added that this would "minimize the danger of getting caught in a burning car or getting hit by other cars" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/12).

TAKING THE NEXT STEP: In Dallas, Gerry Fraley writes NASCAR can "make something positive out of Ward’s tragic death with the simple act of ordering drivers to stay in their cars, unless there is imminent danger." Ward’s death "took place on a track that has no affiliation with NASCAR," but the governing body "nonetheless can have influence." If NASCAR "orders drivers to stay in their cars unless there is imminent danger, other racing groups in this country will follow" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/12). Meanwhile, in Norfolk, Bob Molinaro asks, "In some way, has NASCAR's indulgent approach to driver altercations played a role in the death of Kevin Ward Jr.?" The "on-track tantrums, the near fights and rare real ones are all part of the show within the show." Molinaro: "Because fans eat it up, NASCAR takes a permissive, boys-will-be-boys approach to confrontations" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 8/12).
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