“More Drivers Die in the Month of August”
The headline in the local paper barely caught my eye, as it had all the panic I associate with pointless statistics and surveys. More people on vacation, drinking with friends, and traversing unknown roads results in — drum roll please — more fatalities on the highways. Complacency breeds inattention which breeds ill fortune.
However, after watching the Nationwide Series race on Saturday (Aug. 19), I was halfway to believing the story.
I adore road racing. Perhaps there’s more for my brain to process as the cars navigate terrain that has not been implanted on the inside of my eyeballs, even after two decades of watching NASCAR events. Watching the pitch and roll of a car as it first is flung to the left then back to the right is fascinating. Somehow, fuel mileage is always a factor and braking is necessary to survive the afternoon. And there’s the anticipation of what is lurking around the next bend.
What was around the next bend on Saturday was the No. 81 driven by Maryeve Dufault. After spinning out and stopping nicely on the edge of the course, Maryeve decided that executing a lazy three-point turn would be the best way to get her car going in the right direction at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Unfortunately, it seemed that once she got her car parked across the entire width of the racing surface, she couldn’t put it in reverse. Did I mention she sat on the exit of a blind turn?
Oh, the track safety worker put out a pretty blue flag indicating a local yellow for oncoming traffic to see, but that didn’t happen until she was fully stopped on the track. Not when she first spun. Not as she drove back across incoming traffic to the opposite side of the track, or even as the No. 81 took a left turn so that she could reverse to get the nose pointed in the right direction.
So, what do you think happened next? The blue flag barely flutters its first flap and three cars appear out of nowhere, aimed to drill the right side door of a stationary car at full speed. It was the kind of moment that had me wanting to close my eyes, and yet couldn’t look away from the impending horror.
We were lucky. Somehow, the first car managed to slow down enough to thread the needle between the rear bumper of the No. 81 and the Armco barrier. Trevor Bayne was not so lucky, ripping off her bumper cover and crunching his right-front fender. The No. 11 slowed down enough to follow through without further mishap.
I know we’d like to blame the rookie driver for this near disaster, but actually Bayne’s instant reaction on his radio pinned the problem much more precisely. He asked his spotters and crew chief, “Where were you guys? I almost died!” Which also follows the question; why didn’t NASCAR at least deploy the blue flag much sooner? Let alone the yellow.
Due to the size and complexity of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, teams do not have spotters located such that eyes are available in every part of the track. That spin just happened to be in a blind spot, for drivers and spotters. Who would’ve thunk?
Who would’ve thought that David Ragan and David Reutimann would ping-pong off the blue Armco barriers at Watkins Glen in precisely that manner? Or that Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 would line up perfectly to wrap the radiator around a cement piling that held up the fence? Or at the beginning of the Glen last week, the fog would hover so low that spotters and cameras had difficulty seeing down the stretch, but the drivers had a clear shot. Nobody else could say if the track was clear, but the drivers could. Yeah, that’s safe.
NASCAR is a sport of uncertainty. Time and time again, just when it is decided we’ve installed SAFER barriers everywhere a car is going to wreck, drivers manage to launch their vehicles into the one spot on the track with an awkward angle and outdated fencing. If NASCAR thinks a certain corner on a road course won’t have an accident, it will. When ESPN cuts to commercial, you just know the yellow will fly.
The fact is NASCAR is not a safe sport. If a driver doesn’t have a spotter located on a blind corner, it behooves the team to get one. If a track is missing SAFER barriers, it needs them. If most of the carbon monoxide has been removed from the cockpit, teams must work to get rid of all of it. And if a car is stalled in the middle of the racing surface with oncoming traffic, press the damn button and throw the yellow!
Too many times it has taken tragedy to impel safety technology in this sport forward, when in all actuality it is the responsibility of anyone working in any workplace to make it their personal priority on a daily basis. Complacency can’t be tolerated.
Four drivers lucked out on Saturday afternoon. That was one instance where luck should never have entered into the equation. NASCAR waited much too long to react and fly the yellow and failed to install a rule that spotters are required to have a view of the entire racing surface. These are the big leagues, the teams can afford it.
And NASCAR certainly can’t afford to let the headline at the top of this article come true.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.