Saturday, June 17, 2017

No, Separating The Cars Is Not Safer

This was initially published July 7, 2015, and has been periodically updated as of June 2017:

The Austin Dillon crash at the 2015 Firecracker 400 and the last-lap tumble at the MAV-TV California Indy 500 at Fontana a week earlier have renewed criticism of "pack racing" and "restrictor plate racing" and how the cars should not be as bunched up as they are. This criticism was renewed in 2017 after two-thirds of the field at the Rainguard Indy 600k at Texas crashed and Sebatstain Bourdais exploded in anger at "b******t racing...we can't race like this." The argument has always been "We have to separate the cars, because it's safer."

No, it isn't......

.....and Sebastian Bourdais' own crash proves him an idiot and hypocrite.

We've seen it at Atlanta on the old oval layout with the Steve Grissom crash tearing open the concrete, while the new layout hasn't lacked big crashes as seen in March 2015 and the most infamous one of all, when Carl Edwards turned into an assassin on Brad Keselowski, not only at Atlanta, but then in even more savage form at Gateway. The most celebrated Atlanta race of all - the 1992 Dixie 500 - also tore up a bunch of cars.

We've also seen it at Charlotte in this compilation of recent wrecks and also in these two wrecks from the 1994 All Star race and also the Ricky Craven melee in 1996 and also the even more vicious Ernie Irvan melee that same year. Charlotte melees never seemed to stop.

And the beginning at Texas Motor Speedway became infamous for its wrecks, lowlighted by October 2000's O'Reilly 400 for the Trucks that included Derrike Cope's enormous melee. Texas also saw the famous 2008 Michael McDowell tumble.

And it isn't limited to places like that, as Bristol is famous for crashes, as seen in this cheesy compilation,  in Mike Bliss's crash that sliced open the fencing on the frontstretch, and David Green's melee.  Bristol's history with big wrecks has been pretty long as evidenced by this 1998 disaster and the track's most celebrated finish.

Most people remember Austin Dillon plowing into the fencing at Daytona in July 2015 - forgotten is Ben Kennedy trying to slice out fencing at Kentucky a week later.  

Some have suggested running the Daytona road course instead of the oval - except it isn't a good idea. Heck, running road courses isn't a good idea as shown here and also with yet another self-important Ryan Newman soliloquy after 2014's melee.

NASCAR isn't the only one with this myopia about the dangers of pack racing versus non-pack racing. Indycar at Toronto for one sees melees that are really vicious with the Jeff Krosnoff melee the most infamous. The 1995 running saw a lot of nasty melees and RC Enerson recently saw a vicious melee there as well.

Toronto isn't the only such venue where bad crashes have happened - one of the worst was Dario Franchitti's career-ending melee. Franchitti also got into the air in a big way in Kentucky's non-pack race in 2007.

Serious driver injuries hit again in late August 2015 at Indycar's ABC Supply 500 at Pocono, a disaster that claimed the life of Justin Wilson in a crash he otherwise wasn't even involved in - the Sage Karam crash.

This cheesy compilation shows multiple bad Indycar wrecks, only one of which shown here can be called a "pack" crash.

The dark days of 2000-2001 saw the deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin (both at New Hampshire), Tony Roper, Dale Earnhardt Sr., and Blaise Alexander.   2002 was slightly better, except for a near-fatal crash for Sterling Marlin and a huge crash for Tony Stewart at Darlington.

And in April 2017 at Doington Park in England, F4 racer Billy Monger lost both legs in a savage crash.

By now I think the message is clear - There is zero correlation between size of wrecks and actual risk to drivers.

What these and other melees all showcase is this - the cars are separated as they ostensibly are not in "pack" races - yet the enormity of the crashes is not in the least reduced by being separated; if anything it has only given cars a running start before impact.   The reality is separating the cars is just dumbing down the racing.

That Will Power and Ryan Newman speak out against these races reflects poorly on them.   Racing needs to increase competition while improving safety; it should not dumb down a sport that has foolishly been dumbed down with inferior competition at too many venues.   NASCAR should let its drivers push-draft again to increase passing, while Indycar found the right formula at Fontana and needs to expand on it - 80 lead changes is a lot better than the 22 Daytona saw - a 22 that needs to be 44 and above.

So no Will Power, and no Ryan Newman et al - separating the cars is not safer, it's dumbing down. 

Addendum May 17 2016: The biggest wreck of 2016 so far was at Dover.    While the wildest open wheel crash was this Formula 3 melee at - ironic track name - Spielberg.

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