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NASCAR Wreck Drives Home Need for Spectator Safety

Posted At: March 12, 2013 9:00 A.M.
by Jessica Ruffin

Millions of Americans sat horrified in front of their televisions as one of the tires and the flaming engine from Kyle Larson’s racecar went soaring into the stands at the Daytona 500 race on February 23, 2013. At least 30 fans in the stands were injured after the wreck, with 14 being taken to the closest hospital and the rest treated on-site. Now more than two weeks later, reported that as of last Friday, one spectator injured in the crash was still in the hospital under stable conditions.

It was a crash no one anticipated, certainly not the injured fans, who were simply sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time. My question is, what will the accident do to NASCAR’s public image?

Crashes are nothing new to NASCAR and they’re a recognizable risk for the participating drivers. An attempted block by driver Tony Stewart at the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup in Talladega, Ala., led to a shocking 25 car pile-up. Many Americans can recall the terrible accident at the 2001 Daytona 500 that ended the life of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

NASCAR crashes are horrible and scary for everyone at the race, and NASCAR officials do their best to ensure the drivers’ safety. Drivers are required to wear fire-resistant suits/underwear, helmets, and a head and neck support (HANS) device. The cars themselves are also carefully designed to keep the driver in his seat, avoid flipping and absorb the energy of the crash so the driver remains unharmed. Larson walked away from the crash at Daytona without a scratch after his car flew into the air and slammed into the fence.

However, it’s when the spectators in the stands become the victims of a crash that things become more controversial. The winning driver of the race, Tony Stewart, said to ESPN afterward that although NASCAR drivers understand the risk of the sport, it’s another situation when fans are injured.

“The important thing is what’s going on on the frontstretch right now,” Stewart told ESPN. “We’ve always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport. But it’s hard. We assume that risk, but it’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.

“So as much as we want to celebrate right now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I’m more worried about the drivers and the fans that are in the stands right now because that was . . . I could see it all in my mirror, and it didn’t look good from where I was at.”

Some would say that the 22-foot high fence is enough of a safety precaution for the spectators at NASCAR races. But that fence didn’t shield spectators as debris flew in through the holes made by Larson’s car.

Judging by the number of people injured in this accident, as well as previous ones, NASCAR officials need to consider implementing additional safety measures. After watching the crash, will NASCAR fans be less likely to attend the races in fear that they may be the victims of an unanticipated wreck? NASCAR’s popularity has already declined in the past year, with less and less people attending the races. This accident may do more harm than good for those numbers.

The crash might especially impact the fans who normally bring their families. A single guy may be content with the potential threat of a NASCAR race, but a family with two younger children would be more likely to consider the risks when deciding whether to attend. NASCAR is already known as a dangerous sport for the drivers – it doesn’t need to be known as a dangerous sport for its fans, too.

Do you think NASCAR should consider implementing additional safety precautions after the crash at February’s Daytona 500 race?

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