Race Weekend Central

Watkins Glen Looking at Safety Upgrades in Wake of Huge Crash

In an interview with FOX Sports’ Jay Pennell, Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup noted that the track is looking at potential safety improvements in the wake of the huge crash involving Ryan Newman and Michael McDowell that red flagged the Cheez-It 355 At The Glen for 90 minutes.  However, figuring out what those changes would entail will take quite a while.

After the race, Printup traveled to International Speedway Corporation’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, FL and spent days with ISC President John Saunders and ISC’s design team to create the best possible solutions.  However, there are three other entities that have to be involved as well.  One of those entities is NASCAR.  Another is the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the worldwide governing body for auto racing.  Any improvements to the circuit have to be submitted for approval to the FIA.  Finally, there is the University of Nebraska, specifically Dr. Dean Sikkens.

“We’ll get the University of Nebraska up there, we’ll get NASCAR up there, we’re going to evaluate everything we can,” Printup said to Pennell.  “We’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure it is the safest track we can.”

After the crash, Ryan Newman stated that he thought the track was antiquated and erroneously went on record claiming the track has no SAFER Barriers.  In reality, the track does have SAFER Barriers, but not where the big crash occurred.  Printup refuted some of what Newman said.

“I think Ryan’s a little off in his harsh criticism, because it that was a SAFER wall — like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said, you don’t want to be hitting concrete,” Printup said.  “Concrete stops you, the barrier gave; but there are definitely issues we have to address.”  Printup also mentioned that he was at Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, but did not talk to Newman about his comments.

In regards to the crash that brought out the red flag, Printup noted that the curbing may have played a role in the fencing damage.

“There was some curbing there that made the back of [McDowell’s] car hop,” Printup said.  “A lot people can’t see it. It’s a black-and-white checkered curbing that is about a seven-inch curb rise. So when the car hits it, it pops it up. So that was one thing we have to look real hard at and see if maybe that curbing doesn’t need to be there. But for the road-course guys who race the boot, they want that curbing there. So, we have to figure out that happy medium.”

The curbing Printup is referencing is older curbing that has been at Watkins Glen since at least the 1980’s.  There are only a couple of places on the short course (most notably part of Turn 2) where it is still in play.  Printup also brings up the multiple configurations being an issue.  Any changes that would be made to the circuit cannot disadvantage one configuration for the benefit of the other.

An announcement of potential changes to Watkins Glen International could be months away, depending on how long it takes for a consenus to be reached between the various outfits.  In addition, even though ISC owns the land that Watkins Glen International sits on, any proposal would have to be approved by the Planning Board for the Town of Dix, the small town outside of Watkins Glen where the race track is located.

About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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