Motor racing has always been regarded as a dangerous sport, but NASCAR is possibly the most treacherous of them all. There have been a number of disastrous crashes throughout the history of the sport, including fatalities to the likes of Joe Young, Dale Earnhardt and most recently, John Blewett III at the Thompson International Speedway circuit in 2007. Crashes are ingrained in sport’s history; Duke Nalon’s Indianapolis 500 crash in 1949 was relived this year as he entered the Hall of Fame.
Although officials have attempted to improve safety for all involved, there are still serious crashes to this very day. Earlier this month at Daytona, Austin Dillon was involved in one of the worst crashes in recent memory. Dillon, who drives the #3 Chevrolet, was clipped as they rounded the final bend and his car span out of control and slammed into the catch fence. Miraculously, the driver walked away unscathed and only suffered minor injuries but this latest incident has prompted NASCAR officials to reconsider the safety regulations that are in place.
Although the fence did what it was supposed to do in this instance, it could quite easily have caved in under the immense pressure from the race car and would have injured – if not killed – a large number of spectators. NASCAR fans love sitting as close to the action as possible but it may be time for officials to move spectators further away from the action as to remove any chance of such a catastrophe.
The drivers themselves are split on the idea, with some stating that the safety measures aren’t up to standard and others believe that the catch fence ultimately did its job and the crash was part of racing. For these people the rough and tumble of NASCAR is what sets it out from other sports that they might attend or follow. Removing this could remove some of the charm.
Dillon, though, was particularly angry after the incident, stating: “It’s not really acceptable, I don’t think. We’ve got to figure something out.” His frustration at missing out on the opportunity to win the race was clear to see but his thoughts sent out a clear message to the NASCAR chiefs.
Despite the immense scale of the crash, only 13 spectators required medical attention. The majority of these cases were for minor injuries, including debris that had bounced up and caught some of the fans. But they might not be so lucky next time.
The president of speedway Joie Chitwood III praised the track limits but also claimed that the sport officials would have to look into various ways to improve safety further. NASCAR will certainly contemplate further changes and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see new rules and regulations implemented in the future.
Without a doubt, Austin Dillon was lucky that day.. But the next driver to crash may not be so lucky. Whether they need to widen the tracks and allow drivers more room to pass other cars, or simply limit the cars on track is still up for debate, but one thing is for sure: something must be done to prevent incidents like this from happening again. If NASCAR doesn’t move to make the sport safer it could come to regret it. Using this jolt as an opportunity to drive change could mean we look back on the Dillon incident as not only a lucky escape but also a positive catalyst.