Race Weekend Central

Time For The Glen To Get SAFER

Let me start by saying that I love racing at Watkins Glen International. It’s different, yet has managed to keep some of the old-school charm that made it such a great track in years past.

That said, it’s time to yank the place into the 21st century before somebody gets killed.

The Glen has a habit of chewing up race cars and scaring drivers. What will it take before ISC installs SAFER barriers?

If you have seen Turn 1 from above, you’ll notice that the guardrail juts out to a hard point near where the stock cars jostle back into position for the run up to the Esses. Immediately to the right, you’ll notice another point, guarding the infield from pit out.

These are Armco barriers, mind you, thick plates of steel guardrail with supports built behind them to stop whatever wicked this way comes. Armco has hurt, maimed or killed a lot of drivers in 50 years, including several right there at The Glen.

If NASCAR is going to continue racing 3,400-pound stock cars here, there has to be a major redesign of the Turn 1 area.

Without getting into the proximate cause of the crash that totally destroyed David Ragan’s UPS Ford and the Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota of David Reutimann, the aftermath better have been a wake-up call of cosmic proportions to NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., its sister company that owns the track.

An inch or two one way or the other and you have severe injuries to two popular drivers, or you have The Worst Case Scenario. Reutimann had a huge gash in the shin of his driving suit, caused by something flying into the cockpit as he tumbled across the track and into the outer Armco.

Ragan was hooked from behind by Boris Said as the two headed out of Turn One and up toward the Esses. It turned him into Reutimann, who was minding his own business. Both cars swept into the Armco at pit out and bounced across the track in the midst of the rest of the field; read that as “a target-rich environment.”

Ragan took a big hit, stumbled out of the car like Elliott Sadler did at Pocono last year and tried to catch his breath, waiting for all the little birdies to quit racing around his head. Reutimann got out and sank to the asphalt, looking at his boogered-up shin.

It’s amazing they got out under their own power.

“It’s just a product of close quarters racing at the end,” Ragan said later. “I felt like I had Boris (Said) clear and I think he got a little better run that we did and he just hooked us. He certainly could have given a little more of a break and we all could have gotten through there and not torn up anything.

“But he was aggressive and we were all aggressive. He hooked me and I hit hard.”

How hard?

“I looked down at my feet and my pedals and my leg rests were all pushed over,” he said. “It’s a shame that a race track we go to in 2011 doesn’t have a better wall design all the way around the race track, so hopefully they’ll look at that.

“I’ve been to some dirt tracks that have better walls than that.”

Talk about bringing the pain. Ragan never raised his voice, never glared at the camera. He just calmly and reasonably wondered why in the name of all that’s holy that Armco is sticking out at hard angles all over one of the most historic tracks in the country.

He’s 100% right, too. Reutimann mentioned that NASCAR and the track, “might want to think about a SAFER Barrier” over at the exit of Turn 1 and the entrance to Two. Just in case, you know, a 3,400-pound stock car traveling at well over 100 mph at that point happens to slam the idiotic sheer barrier at pit out and, oh, I don’t know, FLIP across the track full of cars and wind up hitting one of the support cables for the catch fence.

Might want to be an action item at some point in the near future, eh?

OK, NASCAR is one weekend a year at The Glen. It’s profitable, raises all sorts of revenue for ISC, and that’s fine. But what happens when something doesn’t turn out all sweetness and light (relatively speaking) and there are Life-Flight helicopters and ambulances and all that?

Armco will stop you, sure. It does a good job, and the cars are over-engineered for driver safety. Great. Fantastic. Glad to know it. Armco will also shoot your just-crashed behind back into the very traffic you just left, usually at a high-rate of speed and you’re going to collect someone else – you can bet the farm on that.

Add in that it’s a choke-point (hard-point barriers a few yards from each other) and you have the recipe for disaster. The fact that it was narrowly averted makes not one bit of difference.

This isn’t the 1960s or 1970s, when racing drivers died by the handful. Sorry to say that so bluntly, but it is the truth. The SAFER Barrier was invented to reduce impacts into concrete walls and save the driver, if not the car. It does that, very well.

The car was re-engineered in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death to further that concept. It works, again, very well. So why is there still Armco fencing at Watkins Glen?

Denny Hamlin’s suspension broke down the hill coming into Turn 1 and he stuffed his Toyota through the tire barrier head-on and moved the barrier about 18 inches. Walked away. Kurt Busch cut a tire or lost the brakes in Turn 5, same thing. Paul Menard lost a tire and clouted the Armco off Turn 4. Walked away.

Disparate areas of the track, varying degrees of impact and force, no serious injuries. No serious injuries in the Turn 1 crash, either, but the potential for death and destruction was much higher… because of two hard-point Aarmco barriers in stupid positions.

I was there in 1973 when Swede Savage struck just such a wall at Indianapolis in an Indy Car. He died later. They got rid of the wall. Too late for Savage, but they changed it.

I’m asking Watkins Glen and ISC to change that cluster of a setup before it’s too late for somebody like David Ragan or David Reutimann…or Denny Hamlin or Kurt Busch or Paul Menard.

The time has come, fellas, to put up the SAFER barrier and let 21st-century tech take over from the 1950s.

“Contact Ron Lemasters”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/34178/

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