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 Columns & Editorials

January 12, 2000

Stock Car Racing: Are you ready?

Have you ever pulled onto the track, looked at the stands and said, "Well, here I am"?

Many fans think you're out there for the money.
Those who drive know better. A few teams can make enough to more than pay the bills. Most can't.

Some fans think it's for the glory. Well in part, yes.
I can't imagine winning the checkers, taking the parade lap, climbing out of the car with the flag in your hand and the only thing to greet you, are some empty stands.

I believe the other major part is a sense of accomplishment. Of banging door-to-door, struggling hard to come out on top in the next turn and finally taking the lead. God, that is exhilarating!

Maybe you don't come for the glory or the personal challenges. Maybe to you, it's the camaraderie. Meeting people every weekend you have grown to know and care about. That's entirely possible.

The end result is, you have strapped into your ride, you're lined up and waiting for the green to fly.

And the question is, are you ready?

I mean really ready. Sure, you've filled the fuel cell, checked the tires, put on your gear and warmed up the motor carefully before pulling out onto the track. That's not what I meant by asking if you're ready. You see I have been peering into a few rides at several different tracks over the years and unfortunately, some of the things I've seen cause me great concern.

For example, how about the battery that has an automotive inner tube wrapped around it while it's mounted in the driver's compartment? Or how about, a roof that has been cut open and flammable expansion foam can be seen between the open layers from the rear. And better yet, rear frame rails so rusted out you wonder how much the frame flexes in a turn, or for that matter, if it will make it through the turn.

I have watched a car bang into a wall in the backstretch of a local track and the race was red flagged, the car was cut apart and then the driver was airlifted to a local hospital. The hit didn't seem to be all that hard. I was real close to it and from my point of view it didn't make sense. But then, when I got to see the car in the pits, I knew why. Most of the welds had failed from the impact. A good three-quarters of them looked like popcorn. You could see where the car crushed in on the driver.

These are just a few examples of the many things I've seen. Believe me, I have seen worse.

My point is this. Have you taken all of the precautions necessary to ensure that when the race is over, you get to go home? I'm hoping you don't have anything in your car that was assembled or installed with a "That's close enough" attitude. And in truth, I haven't pointed out things that cost very much to do correctly in the first place. True, it takes money to put a car on the asphalt or dirt. But the ultimate price shouldn't be paid. Take some time and really go over your car. Think about what would happen if suddenly you find yourself 'wheels up'. Do you want a poorly secured battery bouncing around and throwing acid all over the place?

Also, If you find yourself turned over, could you get to your fire suppression switch? How about with your left hand? Your right hand could be incapacitated. Have you practiced getting in and out of your ride as quickly as possible? Our children have fire drills in school and yet I'm willing to bet most drivers haven't handed a stopwatch to the wife / husband and tried to see how long it takes to get out of such a tight space. You may even discover a little projecting thingamabob that catches you suit and prevents you from exiting faster.

It's the little things that count when a situation goes wrong.

From what I've seen, it takes several components of a collision to come together all in the right sequence to cause something bad to happen. It seems to me, that if the safety equipment or the car itself hadn't failed how it did, where it did, when it did, things would have turned out for the better. If just one of the components in the collision were to be changed, just one, the events may have taken a different course. So this is my plea to you. Do what you can to stack the odds in your favor. Check everything out. Play out in your mind what would happen to your car if it got hit just so, at an angle from a part of someone else's car that could do the most damage. Would your rigid steering shaft that connects to the gearbox on the front stub deflect to the side, or come straight back?

What kind of safety equipment do you have surrounding the driver? Hopefully, the best you can afford. That is important enough of a sentence that I will repeat it. Get the best you can afford. Don't use a motorcycle helmet with no flammability rating. It can't protect you in a fire. And a full-face with a shield offers more protection to the face. Try to wear driving shoes instead of sneakers. Sneakers assist a fire by contributing to the flames. When they burn, they turn into a bubbling, gooey mass. Gloves are a good idea too. If you're in a fire, your hands are what are going to get you out. Check the fuel lines and clamps in the car while you're at it. You may just stop an inevitable fire the next time you hit the track.

As we all know, racing is a dangerous activity. But so too, is crossing the road in rush hour traffic. Doing what you can to safely accomplish your goal is what it really is all about. I am reminded of a sign I saw posted over a bathroom mirror. It read "Who you see in front of you is ultimately responsible for your safety". Not the track, not the rescue crew, it's just you. If you don't like the safety equipment at a track, don't go. Or move to another one. Sure, there might be hardships, but at least you can still be around to gripe about them. Do what is right to ensure you keep coming back, fighting the good fight.

I hope I have caused some of you to pause for a moment and will think about looking over your cars a little better. I want this coming racing season, (and many after) to live up to our old state license plate motto,
"Arrive Alive".

If you wish, drop me an email and we can discuss some of the many other things that could help make your drive even safer. I would enjoy the dialog.

-The Family Section

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