Lessons for F1 in NASCAR’s horror crash

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Carl Edwards’ crash in the closing stages of last weekend’s NASCAR race at Talladega has sparked debate among racing fans:

Was this just a freak accident in a championship that engineers crashes for the entertainment of its fans – or are there lessons here for Formula 1 too?

Racing for the lead with the chequered flag in sight, Edwards was tipped into a spin by rival Brad Keselowski, then launched in a terrifying flip by the onrushing car of Ryan Newman. The only thing keeping the 99 car from landing in the crowd was a row of safety fencing, and despite that seven fans were injured by a shower of debris.

F1 and NASCAR are as different as two motor sports can be. So it’s tempting to conclude that F1 could never see something similar to Edwards’ crash: the cars don’t race so close to each other, and there is much more run-off between the track and the spectators.

Perhaps. But the welcome sight this year of cars being able to race each other more closely raises the possibility of such a crash happening in F1 – consider Robert Kubica and Jarno Trulli’s collision at Shanghai.

And Bernie Ecclestone is increasingly keen on adding street races to the calendar. Again, this is no bad thing, as it may allow spectators to get closer to the action – but that brings an obvious added danger.

Among NASCAR commentators reaction to the crash has centred on the wisdom of allowing drivers to ‘block’ (i.e. defend) their position. This has occasionally been a cause of concern in F1 as well, with driver being allowed to get away with some manoeuvres that seem exceptionally dangerous – Michael Schumacher’s infamous swerve at Mika Hakkinen at Spa in 2000 being an especially infamous example.

When the FIA is so preoccupied with improving safety by cutting cornering speeds and neutering circuits, it defies belief when drivers are allowed to go unpunished for such actions.

But in NASCAR’s case I don’t think driving standards is the real culprit. This crash again questions the wisdom of ‘restrictor plate racing’. These devices are mandated by NASCAR at larger ovals like Talladega and Daytona to limit speeds but also guarantee the racing pack remains close.

The Talladega race has spawned a cult following among fans eager to witness ‘The Big One’ – a huge multi-car collision that inevitably occurs, often involving dozens of cars. But this time it was fans that paid the price – and had Edwards’ car gone a metre or two one way or another the carnage might have been unimaginable.

Since Ayrton Senna’s death 15 years ago today, F1 has seized every opportunity to examine and improve its safety preparations. It’s important that includes observing how other motor sports handle major accidents like this, and how well their safety procedures coped.

Had NASCAR taken note of lessons learned by rival championships a decade ago, it might not have lost one of its most famous drivers, Dale Earnhardt, in a last-lap crash at Daytona 2001.

Perhaps the Edwards crash couldn’t happen in F1. But safety isn’t about leaving things to chance.

77 comments on “Lessons for F1 in NASCAR’s horror crash”

  1. (Disclaimer: American, who doesn’t find NASCAR very interesting.)

    Of the 7 injuries, the worst was a woman whose jaw was broken. That is a lot worse than just some scrapes or bruises. I’m still appalled at the degree to which some people in the sport seem to think that a spectator injury like this is okay. NASCAR and Keselowski should absolutely be thanking their lucky stars that nobody was more badly hurt or killed. Carl Edwards said it like it is: they’ll just keep racing like this until someone gets killed, then the sport will suddenly go on another safety crusade.

    For one, it’s clear that spectators shouldn’t be sitting that close to the first & only layer of catch fencing. Also, the current NASCAR chassis (known as the COT–Car of Tomorrow) is aerodynamically quite weird and different from the old cars.
    In this case, the roof flaps (meant to slow down and keep a backwards-rolling car from flipping) looked like they caused a sideways-skidding car’s rear end to just…levitate. I’m not sure what could be done to prevent this–maybe flaps that only pop up when it would be safe to do so?

    Either way, every time I watch NASCAR, I feel like there’s only so much longer that they can ignore the last 40 years of automotive technology.

    1. Matt Fallon
      1st May 2009, 19:58

      Actually, to be fair, the roof flaps work, and would have put the car back to the ground had the onrushing car of Newman not smashed into Carl sending him back into the air.

  2. Shahriar Ahsan
    1st May 2009, 9:44

    It was clearly fault of Brad Keselowski…. 1.03min into the video clearly carl was pushed…
    was Brad penalized or something?

    1. As someone who DID watch the race I have to correct you on that one: it was Carl’s fault.

      This stemmed from the October race last year where a similar situation could have occured between Tony Stewart and Regan Smith where Tony moved up to block and Regan cut beneath – getting the front of his car alongside Tony just as Brad did above – Tony then tried to run him down beaneath the yellow line (not allowed by NASCAR on superspeedways).

      In October Regan moved down to avoid the accident, passed Stewart below the line and finished first – only to be disqualified later. Having learned from this Brad was left with two options last weekend – go below the line to avoid the accident when Carl moved down on him, or to stand his ground.

      The accident was Edwards fault for trying to block a car that was already partly alongside the rear of his car, but the ‘yellow line’ rule and the way it was harshly imposed last october didn’t help matters either.

    2. Actually, Carl Edwards has said that it was his fault – he tried to block Brad and misjudged exactly where the 09 car was.

    3. Keselowski went up and then down and had to hold his line. If he gose below the yellow line he is penalized for going below the yellow line. See the Talladagea race last year agaist Regan Smith and Tony Stewart. Edwards blocked high and then tired low and was not clear. There would have been no big fench crash if Newmans car had not hit Edwards but that is how it happned. It was the box NASCAR put them in and that was the result.

  3. scunnyman
    1st May 2009, 9:47

    This is one reason I don’t watch Nascar. It’s too set for the video game generation who want to see crashes galore.
    It’s not something i ever want to see happen in formula one. Though if you look at some of the rules coming or have been tried to bring in for f1 like medals and rotating rivers etc…. it may well happen that we get a video game style f1 in the future.

    As for the crash at talledega i wouldn’t say it was a freak accident, but big accidents do happen often over there.

    But if you want safety in any motorsport how far do you go?
    100 foot fences that don’t break and send debris into the crowd.
    Never let drivers get closer than fifty feet between them.
    Only let drivers race at 20 miles an hour.
    only have one long straight, a turn and them come back down the same straight.

    You can only go so far with safety in motorsport.

    I don’t want death in any type of motorsport. But what do you do?

    You will always get accidents like Patrese when he collided with(i think bergers rear wheel in 91′ 92′) and flew in the air. Or Barrichello during that fateful weekend fifteen years ago this week when he bounced off the curbs at imola and only just caught the top of the fencing around the circuit. Or even the crash that alex zanardi had in germany where his indycar was sliced in 2.

    You cannot safeguard against all accidents, and if you try then you water down the spectacle of the sport we all love.

    To take a case in point seeing as it’s 15 yrs to the date that senna died. Mosley brought in a draft of changes to the regulations after the domination of williams in 92′ and 93. With safety cars coming, which was new to most drivers to handle. Senna’s car was forced to drive too low to the ground which in effect meant he lost downforce at a crucial moment. If it were not for a freak element in his right hand front wheel getting jammed between the wall and his car and smashing him fatally on the head then he may have just hit the wall(as did berger some years earlier) and probably walked away from the crash.

    I’m all for safety, but let’s not get carried away. Motorsport is DANGEROUS and the drivers know it.

    I also think that the safety measures brought in after senna’s death have both helped and hindered our beloved F1 in my opinion. And i don not feel we will ever be able to get back to the real racing we used to have pre 1994.
    The tracks are watered down too much, old and new and the cars are restricted too much.

    anyway i’ve ranted long enough. sorry Keith.

    1. As a NASCAR fan most of us dont want to see drivers crash or die.

    2. Fully agreed.

      And to add to your opinion, I think that nowadays, Formula One is using the economic problem, in a bid to increase more safety. They are restricting too much power from the cars. From V10 and bigger engine capacity, we have moved to V8’s and smaller capacity engines… RPM are going down like dominos… And I’m starting to doubt that the new aerodynamic rules had the benefit of increasing overtaking as their prime target, but actually, to slow down the cars more. F1 cars can and have proved they can withstand huge crashes. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to go fast?

  4. Nascar needs to take a leaf out of F1s book, run off areas, better fences, weight restrictions and safer pit lanes. It proves it with the ‘bit of rain and it’s stopped’ scenario, DANGEROUS.

    1. I’d say the fences look pretty good judging by that video.

    2. shellback
      4th May 2009, 7:02

      The stands for Daytona will then be in Kansas

  5. I dont think theres any reason the compare this to F1 tbh. NASCAR is all about seeing who crashes… F1 isnt and the cars are also much lighter.

  6. Adjustable rear wings bother me – break a front wing and it’s usually a low-speed accident – but take a moment to remember Ratzenberger, 15 years on –
    If the rear one fails, the driver loses control. More potential there for high-speed spins and wheel-over-wheel accidents.

    Any spectator injuries are unacceptable, so I hope FIA keep revisiting spectator protection – at the new temporary circuits, and at established or upgraded tracks like Monza, Spa or Donington.

  7. What if the car went 6 feet higher?! People would have been killed! Look how high the car is when it impacts the fence…

    F1 safety standards are much higher in my opinion.

  8. The IndyCars are racing on many street circuits during the season and I don’t remember if there has ever been an accident involving injuires among the crowd. And I’ve watched Indycars/ChampCars for 15 years now.

    Monaco is as tight a street circuit as you can get and nothing ever happens, so I really can’t see what the fuss (as regards F1) is all about.

    1. And actually, Monaco isn’t safe enough by F1’s modern standards… But due to the safety of the cars, especially since the turn of the millennium, no fatal or big crashes that left drivers severely injured occurred there, most of which, are thanks to the HANS safety device.

    2. Well, if you go back to the IRL/Champ Car days, I believe several fans were killed at Michigan during the U.S. 500 race in the mid-90’s.

  9. Motorsport is dangerous. It’s printer on your ticket when you attend any motorsport event.

    NASCAR is about close racing. Contact will happen.
    Restrictor plates came in to stop higher speed crashes, but now there seem to be more crashes, although at slower speeds.
    Is it now safer for the drivers in NASCAR? Yes. Carl Edwards got out of his car and ran across the finish line to finish the race.
    Is it safer for the spectators? Not sure. Too many cars close together will cause accidents. I haven’t seen enough NASCAR races with restrictor plates to see how many have been a threat to the spectators prior to this.

    Does this effect F1? Not really.
    F1 has had it’s share of debris related incidents. Tethering wheels to the chassis was a result of flying wheels in accidents. I can’t remember the last time flying debris at a street circuit caused a spectator \ marshall any harm?
    At a non-street circuit it’s just as dangerous, in fact even more so if the speeds are increased.

    Nobody wants to see any injuries or deaths.
    F1 has the luxury of increasing run-off areas or introducing chicanes. NASCAR does not. Unfortunately, it will take another similar incident with some serious injuries of deaths for NASCAR to change. It could mean moving the crowds further away from the catch fences. The safest place is for them to be elevated above the action, but this lose the appeal for those that love to see the action close up.

  10. It is worth remembering that the last deaths in Formula One have been that of trackside marshals.

    A first lap accident at the 2000 Italian Grand Prix at Monza where a wheel killed a marshal. And a crash in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne between Jacque Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher, when a wheel went through a small gap in the fence.

    I believe that this was why the wheel tethers were introduced to try to stop the wheels flying off after a crash.

    1. hitchcockm00
      1st May 2009, 12:38

      Yeah that’s what I was going to say. The thing F1 needs to worry about is flying debris rather than flying cars.
      And they need to pay more attention to the wheel tethers because there have been a few wheels coming off the cars in crashes this year. Kubica’s crash in Australia and Sutil’s in China both ended up with wheels bouncing around on the track.

  11. Surely this is a very similar crash to Jacques Villeneuve in Australia in 2001 where Jacques’ car flipped up into the fence and killed a marshal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjvSTidOyPI). And at the 1996 Toronto Indy race Jeff Krosnoff and a marshal were both killed when Krosnoff hit Stefan Johansson’s wheel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kODJoZwik_E).

    So yeah, there’s probably plenty to learn whenever it happens in any racing series. I know they made changes to the Melbourne track/fencing afterwards.

  12. You can’t compare open and closed wheel racing.

    From NASCAR down to the BTCC bumps and pushes happen all the time, because the for the following car there is little chance of a crash or failure.

    Compare that to open wheel racing where deliberating bumping another car usually results in a serious accident or terminal damage for both.

    Ironic that on the 15th anniversary of Senna’s death we are discussing one driver deliberatly crashing into another.

  13. Michael Schumacher’s infamous swerve at Mika Hakkinen at Spa in 2000

    Your having a laugh aren’t ya Keith! That was no way near as dangerous as Hill in Canada ’98 no where near it. Infamous! Naaahh

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfDdqvhBIEw

    Villeneuve & Schumacher ’01 (worth the watch just to hear Murray)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfEtxjDwB8s

    1. I picked the first example that came to mind.

    2. good point K…
      the otherwise impartial and objective Keith sometimes just can’t resist having a go at michael …
      eh, keith ; )

    3. hehe You have to say though in Spa Schumacher bent the rule where as in Canada Hill just blatantly broke it, was Hill punished for that? I can’t remember. Michael was punished for giving Frentzen the “strong arm” lol Ahhh the “good old days” when a driver was punished with a simple stop’n’go during the actual race where the offense occurred. Canada hey remember that place, what was it called… surrounded by water I recall… They used to have some good races there…

  14. It appears that this is a case of air travelling the wrong way through the diffuser, causing a much higher pressure under the car resulting in lift.

    This particular accident would be hard to replicate in F1 for a couple of reason, F1 cars have a very low center of gravity and much less undercar downforce reliance thanks to the ‘stepped’ floor.

    I suspect nascar relies more on increased ground effect to compensate for a lack of above CoG downforce (mainly from lack of aerodynamic wings).

    Le Mans cars have also suffered from this.

    F1 crashes in which cars have taking to the air are often the direct result of a collision rather than aero instability.

    The fences sure did a good job in this case though.

  15. If you watch the video, you’ll easily notice that thhe car was already coming back down to the ground when it “landed” on the hood (bonnet) of Newman’s car and was then catapulted into the air again. So the flaps on top of the car were doing what they were supposed to, which is to try and keep the car on the ground.

    Another thing to consider is the configuration of the racetrack. They were coming up to the finish line which is at the center of a leftward bend, not a straight. The cars only make that bend at those speeds because of a bit of downforce and a lot of tire grip. Once the car is in the air and grip is no longer a factor, the car will start to go in a straight line… straight at the spectators.

    Racing is inheridently a dangerous sports and that needs to be accepted by all, drivers, fans, promoters, media, etc. Accidents like will happen and people will get hurt from time to time. It does not mean that the governing bodies should just give up on safety. It’s just that something will always happen no matter what you try to do.

    F1 should learn from Indy which has a traveling safety team that goes to all the races. Same people at every race attending to the drivers. I’ve been watching Indycars for a while now and they are ALWAYS on “scene” within seconds of the accident. I feel F1 sorely lags Indycar in this area.

    1. Well, I believe F1 has the same doctor (employed by the FIA, if I am correct) that supervises medical care and facilities at each event. However, I believe all the marshals are locals.

  16. I think that if Carl hit that fence direct, the Car would’ve rolled right over it. 3600 lbs x 170+ mph, that fence is not strong enough. Carl is right, Somebody will die eventually.

  17. No one is at fault. If Keslowski when down any further he would have made a pass below the yellow line ruining his chances for a win. Carl also came down on Brad. Carls spotter even said “car low”. They both were fighting for the win and due to the rules this happened.

    Nascar then says it will revert the rules. HELLO! The rules are the thing that caused this. You put the plates on the cars that make run inches apart, and you make the yellow line in which you cannot complete a pass underneath.

    For these tracks the front row in the grandstand neeeds to be moved back in that tri-oval area, the cars need a smaller restrictorplate, and the fencing needs to be taller and at a more inclined angle. The cars need to have more than just roof flaps to keep them on the grond. Airways in the back bumper, back bumper flaps, a revised rear wing that works in reverse as well. These are all things that will work, while maitaining a good show.

  18. They should learn from this, just like F1 has done very well over the past 15 years.
    It’s already been 15 years since that horrible weekend, incredible.
    But F1/FIA has done a brilliant job concerning safety.
    As long as they don’t try the SPA chicane thingies again :)

  19. USF1fanatic
    1st May 2009, 17:42

    Great comments gentlemen! Dare I say better than the article that sparked this conversation.
    If F1 and the FIA are truly interested in making the sport safer as well as more exciting, they will ask people like you. The conversation here is exactly what every motor sport needs; productive, courteous, and provocative. That is what I like the most about this site.

  20. Did anyone notice how many different camera angles there were – and how quickly they were all televised? Three different fixed cameras and three different on board cameras were queued up very quickly. Why can’t F1 coverage get a decent camera system? They can put lights over a whole track but can’t get footage of all the racing?

  21. You can’t blame this on the restrictor plates. The plates create the pack racing and “the big one” wrecks that Talladega and Daytona are now famous for. But this was not the big one, this was an incident that only involved three cars who had broken away from the pack, and as such, could have taken place at any of the 1.5 or 2 mile ovals that Nascar also runs.

    It’s also not the first time that a car has hit the fence at 200 mph at Talladega–that would be Bobby Allison’s wreck in 1987, which was the impetus for the restrictor plates in the first place. On that day, a large section of the fence was ripped out entirely. Now of course, you can never go wrong by making the fence higher, but based on the way the it held up from Edwards’ impact, I’d say the fence has improved a lot.

    In the end, Daytona and Talladega are like Monaco–the inherent nature of the circuit means that the safety standards expected of other tracks can never be met, but their historical significance is too great to be dropped from the calendar.

    1. Good comparison at the end.

  22. The fence did its job great. COT did its job great and Edwards is fine. This is not even the worst crash in the last few years. During a Qual run the 00 car crashed hood first in to the wall and fliped several times and he the driver walked away. Now that was a lot worse.

  23. I think F1 could learn a lot from NASCAR they introduced the HANS system that is now used throughout the world.Remember these cars are doing 300plus on the super circuit’s and when the wreck and they always wreak everyone walk’s away.It’s a dangerous sport to race in and to watch but what do you do have noone at the track’s you can only watch it on TV.Also this is the biggest sport in the state’s in there last TV right’s negotiations the figure than got was more than NFL,MLB & NBL combined and this sport is ruled with a iron fist there isn’t the b*llsh#t we see comming out of the FIA.So F1 could learn a hell of a lot because I can gaurantee you they will be around a lot longer than F1.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      2nd May 2009, 12:10

      F1 has HANS.
      HANS in NASCAR became mandatory in 2005; F1 mmandated HANS in 2001.

      300plus on the super circuit’s and when the wreck and they always wreak everyone walk’s away

      Dale Earnhardt didn’t walk away.

      It’s a dangerous sport to race in and to watch but what do you do have noone at the track’s you can only watch it on TV.

      Really? I thought the spectators at the track were real people.

    2. USF1fanatic
      2nd May 2009, 16:54

      Ok, I had a hell of a time trying to decipher this. Download google tool bar so that you can spell check and use some punctuation. As far as NASCAR being around alot longer than F1, they are a few decades short. There is no doubt that NASCAR is more popular in the US than F1. But world wide F1 is by far the most popular motor sport.

    3. Great responses guys.

      Sean, I believe you are correct in that F1 can learn a great deal from NASCAR in many respects. However, I think you are a bit off target in some areas. Indeed, almost all crashes in NASCAR result in little or no injuries, but some incidents do happen- Earnhardt hopefully being the last. As for popularity, NASCAR dose rule the American motorsport scene, but I believe it dose lag behind Major League Baseball, the NBA, and especially the NFL in terms of overall popularity.

      As for the governing rules and regs, NASCAR dose get many things correct- myself and several other readers brought this up in the aftermath of the Australian GP fiasco. But they also have some shortcomings, and the issue of restrictor plates is one that comes up every year.

  24. First reminded me of Geoff Bodine’s crash at Daytona in the truck series. Also reminded me of a crash at Michigan in CART that I believe had fatalities in the crowd after the car hit the fence, but can’t remember any more details.

    Ultimately there isn’t much Nascar could do on these tracks. Remove the restrictor plate, and the cars are doing 230, increase the restrictor plate, same thing will happen just be slower racing.

    1. Indeed, I mentioned the Michigan crash earlier, before I realized you wrote about it here.

  25. Scott Speed came in 5th. I want him to do well. Every now and then i watch Naaascaaar for the fun of it. It doesn’t really matter who wins but who survives the crashes.

  26. Number 38
    2nd May 2009, 1:52

    On any other day this blog would be spitting on NASCAR, today everyone’s a NASCAR expert! Hmmmm?

    1. I spit on NASCAR PHWA!

  27. The Limit
    2nd May 2009, 5:21

    Accidents like the one experienced by Carl Edwards always raise awareness in safety, and from what I saw of the crash, there were alot of positives.
    Much as I did when I saw Robert Kubica’s crash in Canada two years ago, I feared the impact had atleast critically injured Edwards. Thankfully, I was wrong.
    The closest accident I can remember in recent years to this in F1 was that of Jacques Villeneuve in 2001, a crash ironically simular to the one that killed his father nine years earlier.
    In these cases, safety devices introduced added to the strength of the cars saved the drivers, yet still posed serious threat to those around them. Sadly, in the Villeneuve incident, a track marshal was killed by a stray tyre from the BAR.
    If not for the deaths of Senna and Ratzenberger, Imola 1994 would have made the headlines for the start crash that sent tyres and other debris into the stands, injuring several spectators.
    To F1’s great credit, these old incidents have not been repeated in recent years yet will always remain a possibility. The ultra modern, ultra wide Tilke circuits like in China, Bahrain, and Turkey have huge run off areas well away from the spectators. The circuits are no where near as confined as the older venues used to be like Brands Hatch, Paul Ricard, and Imola.
    This lessens the risk, to both driver and fan alike, yet does not cancel out the problem completely.
    In the years since Dale Earnhardt’s death, American racing in general has taken notice. The number of drivers killed or injured would certainly have been far higher had not the HANS devices and SAFER barriers been introduced, and that is worth noting.
    The traditional high banked circuits of Talladega and Daytona are lauded for the risk the represent. As Chris Rea once sung ‘she ain’t easy so you take good care, or she’ll leave you eating dust’, in referance ofcourse to Daytona.
    The fans love these places just as much as F1 fans adore Spa or Monza, and they are the best venues to see stock cars performing as they were designed to perform.
    Its also worth noting that circumstance plays a massive role in an accident. Just look at the Eurospeedway in Germany, one of Europe’s fastest ovals, designed specifically with safety in mind. Yet that certainly did not save Michele Albereto’s life, nor prevent Alex Zanardi from losing his legs.
    With motor racing safety, you can only lessen the risks to those involved, and take heed of what opinions the drivers have. Fifteen years ago, we all knew that Tamburello was a dangerous corner, we had all witnessed many bad accidents there.
    Carl Edwards was right. NASCAR, IRL, F1, they are all run with the same mindset. We ‘escaped’ that one, no harm done, thats racing. It all depends on the circumstances involved.
    If not for a loose Goodyear and suspension rod, is it not too unreasonable to believe that Tamburello would still exist in its original form?
    Would so many other tracks have been so heavily modified? Ofcourse not, as it eats up valuable time and money.
    And lets face it, F1 is without doubt safer than it has ever been. The real legacy of drivers such as Senna and Earndhardt for example is the better safety standards since their deaths.

  28. I agree with scunnyman, safety can be taken too far. I’m not saying I want to see horror crashes or, god forbid injuries or deaths, but motorsport needs an element of danger. Excess runoff area sets spectators back from the track, and I don’t know about you, but I like being close to the action, even being aware that I myself would be slightly at risk. Formula One cars are most probably the safest in the world; surely we can have some high speed corners Mr Tilke (another 130R or Tamburello, with runoff I hasten to add). Sometimes safety can detract from the spectacle of racing.
    It’s just my view :D

  29. Sush Meerkat
    2nd May 2009, 16:49

    [quote]Had NASCAR taken note of lessons learned by rival championships a decade ago, it might not have lost one of its most famous drivers, Dale Earnhardt, in a last-lap crash at Daytona 2001.[/quote]

    not sure if this has already been said or you know already, but its own fault he died that day, he died of a basal fracture (which is were whiplash is so hard it cracks the neck), and Dale was a huge opponent of the HANS

    He thought it would choke him, and because he was NASCAR’s biggest star he pulled a lot of weight in stoping HANS being compulsary.

    anyway, carry on.

    1. It was (and is) always in NASCAR’s hands to make whatever safety items compulsory they choose to. ere’s an explanation from (former CART/Indy Car medical director) Dr Stephen Olvey’s book “Rapid Response”:

      Dr. Hubbard’s HANS device was designed specifically to prevent [basilar skull fracture, which Earnhardt died from]. Sadly, only one or two drivers in NASCAR used the device in 2000. Earnhardt was not one to worry much about safety. His seat was reported to be sub-standard, his belts were worn loosely and were found to be poorly anchored, and he still preferred an open-face helmet. He probably would not have even worn the HANS device even if it were given to him. He had survived many spectacular crashes during his career and maintained a fatalistic approach to racing. Lady luck had finally deserted him at Daytona.

      A thorough investigation would later show that a HANS would have saved Earnhardt’s life.

      Formula 1 made HANS mandatory in 2001.

    2. I remember he got a great deal of flak for still using the open-face helmet. It would have been positive for NASCAR to follow the F1 lead in introducing HANS, btu sometimes it takes a bad accident to force home the point.

  30. One of the attractions of NASCAR is the proximity of the fans to the track. There can’t be “runoff” areas on an oval. With the roof flaps, safer barriers, and new car design which gives drivers added safety, NASCAR has come a long way in safety.

    You will also notice a large separation between the catch fence and the spectators, which helped reduce potential injuries.

    Unfortunately no racing series can mandate rules to protect against fluke accidents.

    1. That’s the heart of the matter though – was this really a fluke accident? With restrictor plate racing this kind of accident is arguably much more likely.

  31. Not only did Dale Sr. die due to the lack of HANS, he was also attempting a block to allow another driver to win the race, Michael Waltrip. A sad confluence of circumstances all around.

    1. Just to add to this he was running 3rd. His two cars he owned in front of him, one was Waltrip his friend, and the other was his son.

  32. The sport should always be more dangerous for the drivers than the spectators. That is why the number of wheels breaking loose from their tethers worries me.

    The only spectator fatality I personally witnessed was at a dirt track oval where a rear wheel came off a stock car, flew high into the air, and landed on a granny sitting in the stands with her two grandkids about 20 m away from me. She died later in hospital.

    Although, in fairness, the tethers do seem to absorb a lot of energy before they break.

  33. Sush Meerkat
    2nd May 2009, 20:47

    Mansell had a similar crash didn’t he? where corugated fence bent and then threw what was left of his car back onto the track, slingshot style.

    1. I don’t remember him having a crash like that… he got pretty high at Suzuka in ’87.

  34. The Limit
    3rd May 2009, 2:47

    I think its safe to say that the Edwards crash was not a fluke accident, and could very well happen in the future. Having over forty cars, inches apart from one another at 195mph for sustained periods is bound to end in tears for someone sooner rather than later.
    As for the restricter plate element, in many ways I find it laughable. You can just as easily be killed going 195mph as you can at 230mph, so restricting the power output is nothing more than window dressing so far as safety in concerned.
    As others have already pointed out, with road courses you can always add a chicane to a fast stretch in order to peg back excessive speeds. With ovals, you can’t, and thats about it!
    The biggest danger concerning ovals is when drivers get teeboned, as was the case with Paul Dana’s fatal crash in 2006. If you look closely as Edwards car rolls to a stop post impact, he very nearly gets hit broadside by Greg Biffle in the 16. Being hit at over 200mph on the drivers side like that, would have been curtains for Edwards.
    Dario Franchitti knows all about those type of crashes, after suffering an ankle injury last year due to one.

    1. I agree – and I think there’s a grave danger of complacency in that word ‘fluke’.

    2. I wouldn’t call the plates mere window dressing–the cars would surely be hitting 240 mph in the draft without them, and since kinetic energy increases proportionally to the square of velocity, 195 mph represents over a one-third decrease in the energies of the cars.

      Also, I’m no aerodynamicist, but I wonder if the 200 mph mark or thereabouts represents the beginning of a regime where the characteristics of the airflow change and become more unstable or something to that effect, so that the risk of getting airborne begins to increase exponentially. I’m really just kind of waving my hands here, and I’m sure someone could put me right, but I do recall Darrell Waltrip saying something to that effect on the broadcast last week–I think he called 200 mph and above “no man’s land”.

  35. Id rather watch paint dry than nascar, its all about MotoGP and F1.

  36. Sush Meerkat
    3rd May 2009, 12:14

    I don’t remember him having a crash like that… he got pretty high at Suzuka in ‘87.

    I remember watching something along those lines as a child, he was knocked unsconscious by the force of impact, would that be it?

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      3rd May 2009, 21:56

      I think that was his year in CART or Indycar. I seem to remember it was at Phoenix Raceway, out in the desert . . . That would have been 1993.

  37. Sush Meerkat
    3rd May 2009, 12:18

    Id rather watch paint dry than nascar, its all about MotoGP and F1

    have you watched it? its pretty fun to watch actually, but i’m a fan of every sport with an engine, I even watch Monster Truck racing (which is the only time I’ve seen my nephew sit down and not say a word for an hour straight.)

    Monster Trucks have HANS now, since Dennis Anderson broke his shoulder in Gravedigger, with HANS they actually jump higher because of the drivers feel safer.

    Crazy Rednecks.

  38. Keith and The Limit:

    Respectfully i think fluke is absolutely the correct term. You can’t tell me when the last time a car grabbed big air and hit the catch fence, can you? Yes, restrictor plate racing forces close car racing and the inevitable “Big one”.

    But when you consider the number of laps run over the years and the incidence of cars getting airborne I think “fluke” is the proper description.

    That’s not to say the sport should be complacent on safety. Improve it where ever you can but without destroying the nature and uniqueness of the series.

  39. Well before Nascar – there was a incident where a Mercedes flew into the crowd and killed several spectators and caused Mecededes withdrawel from racing for decades – a great loss – but it was a racing incident – hence the disclaier on all racing tickets – legal or not – it is accepted as such? – no one has sued Max/Fia to check if legal – hopefully no one is in such a position – really no one can cover every eventuality

  40. Great discussion everyone- it is good to see that serious events in the realm of American Motorsport are picked up upon the world over.

    I am not a big fan of NASCAR, but I believe that safety for both drivers and spectators in the series has evolved over time in the same fashion as it has for F1 and other racing series. Sadly, sometimes this is even not enough.

    The NASCAR fans I am friends with (all of whom are intelligent and competent, for the most part) dislike restricter plate racing, for exactly the reason that it bunches cars together and increases the chance for big wrecks. Those of you who point out the nature of the venues are correct, as both Daytona and Talladega are among the most popular stops for NASCAR each season, just like Monaco for F1. My first preference would be to get rid of the plates and let the 200mph speeds happen, but I am far from an expert and would leave it to more professional sources to offer in on this.

  41. Gman, the real solution would be to eliminate Talladega and Daytona from NASCAR racing. We also know that won’t happen as those two tracks are owned by the France family that also happens to own and run the series.

    You can’t eliminate restrictor plates as the speeds would then rise to 220 mph+.

    The only other alternative is to further strengthen the catch fences. Even then debris will still scatter through the fence openings like shrapnel, which is the cause of the recent injuries. But better shrapnel then the entire car.

  42. theRoswellite
    4th May 2009, 19:23

    This near catastrophe is not about:

    …which driver was at fault
    …how the cars are configured
    …fate, luck, or inevitability

    It is simply about track layout, car speed, and the configuration of safety barriers separating spectators from objects entering their area at speed.

    Nascar and Indycar tracks are based on layouts in which spectators surround the track…EVEN IN CORNERS. They can’t change these tracks without there being a real alteration in the nature of their sport.

    A car, at speed, entering a spectator area could be the event which will bring about such a change.

    Anyone designing these tracks today would put the spectators to the inside of the ovals and have the cars, pits and all related support staff outside the track….doesn’t work very well for viewing does it!

    How does F1 stand?

    Next time you watch a race, mentally project a car’s path at an unaltered speed in…any direction…that it is capable of moving. If the results might be a spectator related catastrophe, then this is a real possibility. One which should not be ignored.

    2009 almost entered racing history the way 1955 did, and believe me, NASCAR is very aware of their “near miss”.

  43. I hope Nascar don’t have a knee jerk reaction to this and instead spend their time and money and energy in reinforcing the barriers, period…

    1. Keith. Not sure where to post this but I was wondering if you saw todays serious safety car crash at the 2nd WTCC race in Pau France. It was quite dramatic! I’ve not been able to find video of it just yet but tought you might want to post an entry of this under safety car lessons to be learnt…

  44. speaking of the adjustable rear wings. If that rear wing breaks and the driver tries to turn his car even slightly all hell breaks loose. Does anyone remember Catherine Leguie’s crash at road America in 2006. At “The Kink” going 170 mph.

    here is the video (she wasn’t hurt but the crash looked bad) …

  45. I reckon it was definitely the safety car drivers fault, but at the same time the drivers would have known it was coming out and where so should have slowed down more.

  46. I don’t understand why the cars were going that fast when it was known that the safety car was coming out. The other thing to watch is the guy at the end of the pit lane. You can see him wave the safety car out right as the race leaders are coming up on pit exit. I would say that even though there were lots of things done wrong, most of the blame should be on the guy that gave the safety car the go ahead at an unsafe time.

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