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 Columns & Editorials

March 7, 2000

Accidents and Investigations, "Should the Show Go on?"

After the tragedy at USA International Speedway in Lakeland on February 26th, a lot of inquires and questions have been brought to light. We often seek some since of understanding by formulating a quick theory in our own minds.

How could something as simple as putting air in a tire, kill someone? It's hard to understand, and even harder to explain.

When accidents happen, everyone wants answers. The family needs to understand what happened to their loved one. The race team needs to understand what happened so as not to repeat it again. The track needs to understand what
happened in order to insure the word gets out, if a problem does exist. And race fans want to understand that safety is really a priority when they visit a speedway.

Substances under pressure are inherently unstable, and the containers they are kept in are subject to failure. As investigations have proven out so far, no one performed any illegal act, or used a non-approved substance or
procedure in this case. Early "eye witness" accounts were not substantiated, only fueling rumors and finger pointing by even fellow competitors. But what was brought to light were the flaws in the investigative procedures at
raceways and the need for everyone to understand that sometimes the show doesn't have to go on.

If your local racetrack is ever faced with a tragedy such as this, please think about the following points I wish to make.

First, as in all accidents, let the safety teams do their job. Stay back from the scene as much as possible. Often your helping is a wonderful benefit to the stressed and stretched to the limit track safety crew, but your normally
not needed unless your expertise is in the trauma field or a related area of medicine.

Once the injured have been removed from the accident scene, it should be standard procedure for local authorities to be contacted. When I say authorities, I mean county or city police, as a minimum. Just like with a highway accident that claims a life, an investigation should be started
immediately to insure all of the previously posed questions are answered as to what really happened. I would think tracks would want to investigate even the smallest of accidents and injuries to insure steps are taken to avoid
their repetition.

This thinking does not help a promoter or track owner, who has 10,000 race fans in their seats waiting to see the on track action. It also, surely will not make any fans happy, having to wait hours to get the show back under way.
This is where you can use some common sense, even if you don't have a common rulebook.

The racers and fans directly involved in an incident should be interviewed and there accounts documented, as soon as humanly possible. This saves a lot of soon forgotten information for a more in-depth review later. Also, thought
should be given to not allowing teams to continue to race when involved in incidents requiring someone's transportation from a race facility for medical attention. More often than not, the concentration levels of a driver and their race team are affected to the point that damage vehicles are the end result.

So whether it is determined that an item failed, or a system or procedure is flawed, we must strive to make our losses count toward a safer sport. Lifting the sprit in our racing souls will be harder at times, but as long as we
demand excellence in racing, we must demand excellence in the investigations following the few instances we face trackside.

So tracks, racers, fans and media must work together to insure misinformation does not exist. Tracks must insure that procedures are in place to handle the situations that come along. Racers are task with insuring than crews are
aware of the dangers of working around high-powered machines. Fans must understand that while every situation conceivable is planned for, often the inconceivable is a sudden reality. Spreading half-truths or rumors through
racing message boards does no one any good and often leaves wounds that cannot be healed.

Last of all, the media, especially outside of racing circles, must strive to report the good in racing. In recent month's radio and television news coverage of racing in my area, has consisted of a horrific 3 car fire at one
track, the death of a figure 8 driver at another, and now the tragic loss of a crew member in the pits of another. Not a word has crossed the air waves and papers about the driver that won 18 out of 31 races, the figure 8 driver
who won his first feature event ever after 25 years of racing, or the 71 year old great-grandfather still driving sprints for fun. Why can't we report on the positive affect that racing has on the community.

The charities that
benefit, and the families that spend time together each week should be in the news. It's time for the media to start making a difference, and it should start with this very article.

Have an opinion on this story? Post a message on our Message Board!
or send a letter to the editor!



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