Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle: Try as We Might, Racing Is Still Dangerous

The sport of automobile racing excites competitors and fans on many levels. The speed, the sound, the engineering, the strategy are all things that stimulate the senses and thrill people who come to the racetrack or watch on TV. One thing that thrills some drivers is the fact that they push it to the limit and can sometimes cheat death. The sad reality of racing is that, while the majority of the time, every person in the race and in the stands does cheat death, there are rare instances when they don’t. This past weekend was one of those times.

For those fans who are not aware of it, Carlos Pardo, a driver in NASCAR’s Corona Series in Mexico, was involved in a late-race incident where his car was turned sideways at the end of the backstretch and crashed violently, passenger side, into the end of the inside wall. When his car hit the barrier it literally disintegrated. Debris sprayed 50 to 60 feet in the air and some 100 feet down the racetrack.

Pardo appeared to be moving when the track safety personnel got to the car but there was obviously a serious problem because the track personnel covered the car and the driver with tarps as he was loaded into the ambulance for transport to the hospital. 45 minutes after the accident, Pardo was pronounced dead. The race organizers declared Pardo, who was leading at the time of the wreck, the winner in a fitting tribute to the accomplished racer.

Another accident occurred last weekend that a few more of the fans of NASCAR might have heard about. Johnny Benson was running a super-modified car at Berlin Speedway when the made wheel-to-wheel contact with another competitor. The cars crashed into the outside wall and slid back across the track. Benson’s car caught on fire as it slid to a stop.

Fortunately, the track safety crew was less than 100 feet away and was able to extinguish the flames only seconds after the race was stopped for the accident. Benson is reported to have received bruised ribs, a punctured lung and a broken wrist. Members of Benson’s family credit his HANS device with minimizing the amount and severity of his injuries.

While fans are glad to hear Benson is doing better and should make a full recovery, they are saddened to hear of the loss of life in Mexico. Most of the fans of NASCAR’s top series remember Michael McDowell tumbling down the track at Texas and walking away. Everyone touted the safety advancements that NASCAR made with the new car and their safety standards. Carl Edwards tore into the catchfence at Talladega and got out of the car to trot across the start/finish line.

Both of these events speak volumes about the safety that NASCAR has helped engineer and requires in the cars raced in their top series. Thankfully the cars of today are much safer than those raced even 10 years ago. People walk away from wrecks feeling sore and a little dizzy that would have put them in the hospital or worse just one decade ago.

That said, the fact still remains that auto racing involves going at ridiculously fast speeds strapped into a metal cage. When something goes wrong and a racecar goes out of control, violent things happen and the human body can only withstand so much.

NASCAR’s safety initiatives have made huge advancements in the last 10 years, and the reduction in serious injuries that has been experienced by drivers has been an enormous benefit to the sport, the competitors and the fans. The chances of surviving a serious crash are far greater now than they were at the turn of the century. However, no matter how safe the sport has become, people can and will die. This past weekend was a very stark reminder of that fact. Let us never get complacent about striving to make racing safer, and let’s all remember Carlos Pardo in our thoughts and prayers.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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