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 Columns & Editorials

February 21, 2001


By Chief Craig C. Clarke
So now, we bury one of the greatest drivers of all time. The issues of safety have again reared their ugly head and said, Now what are we going to do? Flat tracks, banked tracks, soft walls, the HANS device, restrictor plates, it didnt look that bad, I have heard a hundred different reasons why Dale Earnhardt should still be alive today.

The cold hard facts are that the car did not absorb the impact and G forces, the DRIVER did. I have a sneaking suspicion that when the final autopsy report is released, you will see a case of brain stem injury and closed head injury caused from the rapid deceleration of the vehicle into a non-moving stationary wall causing a whiplash effect of the drivers head and cervical spine beyond its normal range of motion causing irreparable injuries.

Comments were made that the HANS device would probably not have made any difference in the outcome, I disagree. It is possible that any type of head/neck immobilization device could have saved him from the force-impact type of life-ending injuries. Proponents will say that it was just too much momentum traveling at the speed that the car was, and the mechanism of the crash, and they may be right. So how can we prevent this from happening again? Simply put, you cant.

We can however reduce the amount of G force that is transmitted to the driver. The answer is to make the cars more shock absorbing and able to withstand the shock of crashing into a wall or other hard object. Remember the bumper cars at the amusement park? Same concept. NASCAR and other stock car sanctioning bodies need to step up to the plate and ask for assistance from the myriad of safety professionals from across the country that have various technical backgrounds, not necessarily racing, but industrial & commercial safety backgrounds, and formulate a safer car.

The bottom line is that stock car racing's greatest sanctioning body needs to ask for assistance, and should set the precedent rather than following a reaction from other groups. The steps that they have taken so far, have been a rolling experiment, trial and error. Unfortunately the error side is not favorable. The latest changes with the aerodynamic packages have enabled a faster tighter grouping of the cars which makes for some great racing...especially when they crash. This tight formation does not afford any room for mistakes. Yes racing incidents and bumping and grinding are part of the sport, but lets not forget that everyone needs a little space for correction especially when you are traveling in excess of 190mph with only a foot of clearance.

Numerous drivers including Dale Earnhardt have also expressed their objections to the restrictor plate mandate. They have stated that it takes vital horsepower away from them when they are in a situation where they have to pull out from a potential crash and/or incident. There is point where the lines of safety and speed cross, and it is up to the people who brought you Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and the like, to work towards a safer car as well as a safer track.

My deepest condolences and heartfelt wishes to the Earnhardt Family and friends of racing worldwide.

Chief Craig C. Clarke
KARNAC.com Safety Editor

Related Links:
The HANS Device
NASCAR Idles While Drivers Die

[Craig Clarke owns and operates the Track Rescue Fire Department and has an extensive background in safety operations: www.trackrescue.com "Safety for Racers" ]

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