Brief Thoughts on the Nationwide Accident at Daytona

We’ve been painting the new house.  I was straining to hear EPSN’s commentary over the swoosh-swish of the paint roller as the race came to a close – but it was all too easy to hear the change the tone of Allen Bestwick’s voice.  We heard it in Marty Reid’s voice in Vegas not too long ago.   I remember the first-hand feeling sitting about 50 yards from Michael McDowell’s wreck during qualifying at Texas.  A track full of race fans – all quiet – is one of the worst sounds in all of sports.

The first reaction to things like this is often blame.  Blame NASCAR for blocking videos, blame ESPN for showing too many replays — or not showing enough replays.  Blame reporters for not having information fast enough.  Blame reporters for information reported in good faith that turns out to be incorrect.  Blame drivers for blocking.  Blame drivers for trying to pass.  Blame NASCAR for letting the cars go too fast.

I was at the NASCAR R&D Center a couple of weeks ago talking with the head of NASCAR’s safety effort.  There is no one more committed to safety or doing more to make racing safe — for fans and for drivers.  There is no one at NASCAR who thinks the show is more important than safety.

In talking to folks at NASCAR and people like Dean Sicking, inventor of the SAFER barriers and one of the foremost motorsports safety experts in the world, the same themes emerge.  We have solved 99% of the safety issues.  The fact that Kyle Larson emerged from what was left of his car uninjured is a miracle.  The fact that the engine did, in fact, get stopped by the fence, saved lives.

The safety issues that remain are the ones that are hardest to solve:  The ends and the breaks in pit road walls.  SAFER barriers for inner walls that can still open quickly — even when damaged — to let emergency vehicles onto the track.  Gates in catchfences that open, but retain the same strength as a solid piece of catchfence.

I’ve got some general information about catchfences that was written after the Dan Wheldon accident, and I expect I will reiterate my thoughts that there needs to be a concerted effort to figure out how to fund the very expensive research necessary for preventing what happened Saturday night from happening again.

Right now, my thoughts are with the people who were injured and my best wishes go to them for speedy, complete recoveries.


  1. You make excellent points. I wasn’t at the race and have viewed only a few of the pictures.

    You say … “The fact that the engine did, in fact, get stopped by the fence, saved lives.” But didn’t the engine end up inside the catch fence along with what looks like lots of suspension parts?

    The entire front clip of the car is GONE. At least one tire and the engine ended up from what I can see beyond the catch fence. Where is the radiator? Where is the transmission (maybe still in the car?). Where are the chassis members that make up the front clip?

    I’ve been to many NASCAR tracks (including Daytona, for 10 years I sat in the The Tower right above where the fence was penetrated) and to the IMS for over 50 events.

    Are the heavy arresting cables too far apart? Do they need more arresting cables closer together? Did the car get in between the cables and then have the front end sheared off by the steel poles?

    These questions should be answered as part of the expected post crash investigation and analysis.

  2. I will be the first to agree that you can’t stop every potential danger at all times 100%. That said, I saw 2 fan interviews and one with a NASCAR official before today’s race who all generally stated that “race fans love danger” One of the fans elaborated and said, “this is what fans expect can happen at any time” (being injured by flying debris) “and why we keep coming to races.”

    I want to go on record, when I take my son to a NASCAR race, an NHL game or a lacrosse tournament, I have the full expectation of returning in the same physical condition as when I left. My wife would *never* allow me to go to events live if she thought I could get injured during the course of the event. That said, I have gone to many open and closed wheel races. I have never sat ANYWHERE but at the very top of the grandstands. I started going to races at Michigan shortly after their fatal wheel incident.

    The last time I was at a demolition derby, the person sitting next to us was hit by a small piece of metal kicked up by spinning tires. Yeah, not doing that again. I don’t want to risk, literally, losing an eye, to see some people play around with junked cars in the mud. Not worth it. I refuse to go to Monster Truck events for the same reason. A couple years ago, a kid was killed, IIRC, in the upper deck when a brake rotor flew off and traveled hundreds of feet before hitting him.

    This has got to be the 3rd or 4th time a vehicle has gone into a catch fence in recent years. The fence did as good as it could. The engine & wheel were on the other side, but not in people’s laps. But when we start judging the quality of safety in relative rather than absolute terms, we’ve lost the battle. My son is 12, him losing his eyesight at this age due to flying debris at a NASCAR track or local Demo Derby is too high a price to pay. Odds are low, but severity is high if you’re struck. We can’t eliminate all risk in our lives – driving to work and back is riskier than many things I’ll ever do. But one can choose to not partake in activities which have unnecessary risk. It’s not necessary for me to see Demo Derby or NASCAR, the later of which I can do better from my Lay Z Boy with cheaper drinks & snacks. That said, I did book a Carnival Cruise this week, taking advantage of some people’s fear, as I don’t see that as too big a risk.

    I saw a rear deck lid come off a Nationwide car earlier in the race. That scared me. Parts shouldn’t be coming off these cars and flying around.

  3. First off, I hope that every fan injured makes a 100% recovery from any injuries. Second, I hope the incident doesn’t stop them from going back to a race.

    I don’t think there is any way to stop all types of debris from flying into the stands and still make it viewable to the fans. Looking down the fence and one only sees the fence let alone if there were more guard wires or anything of that nature.

  4. Nationwide Crash, Better Safety = No Restrictor Plates
    (written before the fan videos were available)

    I hope the fans’ injuries can be recovered from. That 150 lb wheel/tire/brake assembly went flying up the grandstands had a lot of deadly energy. As a practicing Mechanical Engineering Consultant that has worked on the space shuttle, satelites, and the winning 3-spoke time trial bicycle wheel for pro’s, and as a HPDE addict who built a 68 Triumph GT6 to D-Prep spec’s and beyond, I clearly see two thing that should be done immediately:

    1) Regan Smith should be penalized for such a crude, futile block on Brad K’s car at 200mph. He had a 5% chance of getting by, and a 95% chance of causing the carnage that happened. And these guys are so desensitized that Brad thought Regan did nothing wrong, and Regan said he’d do it again !!

    2) Nascar’s safety group had done excellent engineering to make the cars and the two speedways as safe as they are now. But no other race group that I know, using these two tracks, still uses the big oval that forces the use of restrictor plates, and the dangerous racing style. The way the cars came together was like the perfect storm for launching Kyle Larson’s car up the fence. Nascar should do the right thing, and use the inner loop of the track to slow the cars naturally, and not by choking them. The Rolex 24 hrs does this, as well as the Pro Bikes during Bike Week.

    That’s it, and IMHO there is no excuse for not doing it. I’d love to see the Sprint cars coming off the inner loop and going wide open (no restrictors) to build up speed on the high banks, and them slam on the new mega brakes to enter the loop.

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