CHECK OUT OUR VINTAGE WISCONSIN RACING PHOTO GALLERIES
Smoldering Daytona Fire Sparks Safety Changes
The embers of the huge jet engine dryer fire in the Daytona 500 were still smoldering this past weekend at Phoenix as safety changes designed avert another such incident began to emerge.
The first – a NASCAR initiative – will now position an extra pace car with flashing lights behind the last jet-dryer truck on the track at all Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Camping World Trucks Series events.
While that’s one idea, we’re not sure just putting another vehicle with flashing lights in harm’s way is the full solution here. There are already multiple flashing light vehicles and stationary-flashing lights positioned around the racetrack to indicate the event is under caution.
And it’s not like the drivers don’t know they are under caution or where the incident is already. In many cases, those trying to catch up for the restart were in the incident to begin with. Additionally, any good spotter is going to remind their driver that he’s coming up on the safety area and that they need to be alert.
Finally, in the meeting prior to every event, all drivers are told to slow down in areas where there’s been an incident and be ‘courteous’ of the safety workers.
This isn’t a rule as such. If you don’t show a little love to the safety crews, NASCAR race control quickly communicates a strong warning to the team through the spotter or crew chief stating that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated. Rarely is there a penalty, just a warning.
That said, we’ve already got another vehicle on the track thanks to the new NASCAR rule this past weekend, so let’s use it to help modify caution speed rules in the area of a wreck or incident.
Make the new flashing light vehicle the first marker in a 'Safety Zone' where participants are mandated to drive slower in the vicinity of a wreck/incident where there are safety vehicles on the track. The Safety Zone will extend from the first marker car to the last safety vehicle at the front.
Those in 'The Zone' would be required to travel at pit road or pace car speeds.
Simple, right? And safer too.
They already do this when the field follows the caution car through a stricken area. Now, do the same when race vehicles are on their own. Drive like hell to the safety area – maintain pace car speed throughout that zone – and then gas it to catch up to the back of the pack or another return to pit road.
This can’t get any easier.
Of course, there’s always the enforcement side of yet another rule, but this is a no brainer too.
At best, NASCAR can monitor the speed of any car on the track anywhere because of the GPS already on the cars. Think Data Loop Scoring - just have an official monitor the data of each vehicle going through the speed zone.
Totally accurate. No questions asked. The data doesn’t lie.
If the foolproof electronic way isn’t in the budget, a good old-fashioned way to monitor speeds in an incident area would be to put a radar gun on the pace car NASCAR has just inserted at the back of the safety pack. Beam up each race vehicle as it enters the Safety Zone. If you set off the buzzer, you’re a winner.
It’s not as tidy as the GPS method, but it will hold up in court.
Regardless of what data acquisition program NASCAR uses, anyone caught speeding through the Safety Zone gets a stop and go pit road penalty. Do it more than once in a race and get parked five laps.
Seriously. No joke.
This could – and should - be a reality.
Meanwhile, NASCAR does not require jet dryer operators to be outfitted in fire suits and helmets. That’s because the companies that provide that service are contract players, not owned by or employed directly by NASCAR.
That said, my first – and probably everyone else’s - reaction to the Daytona inferno was these guys need to be suited up.
Thankfully, Eddie Gossage at Texas Motor Speedway feels the same as he announced this past weekend that jet dryer crews at TMS will now be dressed in fire suits and helmets. You can only conclude that the rest of the Speedway Motorsports owned tracks will follow suit shortly. If that happens, that means ISC tracks will do the same. They won’t have a choice.
A nearly universal reality is that almost all safety initiatives in racing have come out of adversity. That’s not a knock on racing - or in this case, NASCAR - as much is that’s the way life is. We muddle along thinking everything is fine until something happens that gets people to wondering how to make it better.
The fiery wreck at Daytona presents that opportunity. It was amazing something like that could even happen. In the end, it was even more incredible that everyone walked away without serious injury.
Safety is the most important thing at the track for both the participants and fans. You know the old saying – ‘It’s only funny until someone gets hurt.”
Slowing the race vehicles at all times in stricken areas on the track, and making sure everyone in the line of fire is outfitted in the appropriate and best safety gear available, are two good ways to keep everyone at the race track smiling.
Wendell Scott Remembered
There was a small buzz at Phoenix this weekend about Wendell Scott as NASCAR recognized Scott’s first Grand National (now Sprint Cup) start made on March 4. 1961.
That first start came at Spartanburg (SC) Speedway where Scott rolled off ninth in a 1960 Chevrolet that he had purchased from Ned Jarrett. Just 52 laps into the 200-circuit event, Scott lost oil pressure and parked for the day.
He was officially credited with 17th and collected $50.
The accomplishment was recognized with a NASCAR-created B-post decal on all NASCAR K&N Pro-Series West, Nationwide and Sprint Cup cars competing at Phoenix.
In all, Scott – who wasn’t initially allowed to race in NASCAR because of his color - made 449 career NASCAR Cup division starts scoring one win. That came at Jacksonville (FL) Speedway Park on December 1, 1963.
Initially disputed at the conclusion of the event with Buck Baker being declared the victor, Scott’s win was later verified after everyone had left the track hours later when scoring indicated he was not one, but two laps ahead of Baker and the rest field at the finish.
Scott never won again, but did score 20 top-five and 147 top-10 finishes in his career that ended after a bad wreck at Talladega in 1973.
And those numbers are just his Cup record as Scott won numerous jalopy and modified stock car races in the NASCAR rival ‘Dixie Circuit’ around his native Danville, VA home in the 1950’s.
In the end, the only color that Scott exhibited was that of a true blue racer, a driver who did whatever it took to get to and from the race track and do his best when on it. The fact Scott did that in spite of the institutional and public resistance directed toward him makes worthy of legendary status in the history annals of the sport.
Cool idea for the tribute sticker guys. Perhaps the voters for acceptance into the NASCAR Hall of Fame will someday determine that Scott – an everyman in racing and a champion in life - deserves to have a ‘sticker’ there too.