I yawned again. Yes, the Air Titans were doing their job, but @dennyhamlin was right: green flag for the Coke Zero 400 was not flying until after 11 p.m.. I must be getting old. The thought of staying up to watch the race was not as desirable as heading off to my bed. I programmed the DVR to record until 5 a.m.–hey, if NASCAR was willing to run until 2 a.m., why would they stop then? Then I turned out the lights and sought my dreams.
However, the old cat had other ideas about sleeping through the night. She got me up somewhere around 1:30 a.m,. demanding some snacks. She’s 19. I oblige, and turn on the TV just to make sure the race is still being recorded. Jeff Burton and company mentioned a few big wrecks, but the laps were running down. I kept an eye on the competition and actually enjoyed the coverage. With ten laps left, I gasped when David Ragan went for a ride across the grass, and again when the No. 9 ripped his splitter off a few circuits later. Neither of those crashes were real Daytona heart beaters, though.
However, you knew we couldn’t finish the night without the Big Show. On the green white checkers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. blocked all the attempts by Denny Hamlin, and Dale’s teammate No. 48, to sneak by. The miles ticked down. The pack bounced around the track. I swallowed and fought back the rising nausea. Maybe they would make it across the start/finish line without any further mayhem. Maybe…not.
The explosion of the catch fence as Austin Dillon’s No. 3 impacted it sent my pulse racing. My cry of alarm woke up my husband. The cameras followed the bulk of the injured field down into Turn One, but I knew the black No. 3 was not rolling with them. It couldn’t be. Not after a replay of Kyle Larson’s XFINITY wreck from 2013. We fixed the fence, right? NBC showed us the complete engine lying on the track, flames flickering around the twisted heap. The entire snout of the upside down car was missing. There was no fence remaining at the point of impact. Good God, not again.
The teams from the No. 88 and No. 13 pits raced out to Dillon’s car. He was okay. Upside down, but fine. Our hearts and minds kept returning to the other side of the fence. A reverse angle of the wreck was shown–even more horrifying than the first time. Shrapnel could clearly be seen flying into the stands. First responder lights flashed in front of the seats. However, there wasn’t a sense of panic in the area. I couldn’t believe we would be that lucky this time around, not after all the drama of the few years.
Well, we were lucky. Four fans received attention for minor wounds at the track. A fifth fan went to the hospital, but was released a few hours later. All’s well, right?
No! It’s not okay. It has not been okay for many years. Dale Sr. snaps his neck impacting the wall in Turn Four, NASCAR mandates HANS devices and installs SAFER barriers throughout the circuit. Catch fences are penetrated multiple times at Daytona and Talladega, so the fences are strengthened. Wheels and hoods escape from cars during wrecks, so tethers are installed. The cars get faster, NASCAR plays with the aero and engine packages to slow them down. More drivers are injured; more patches are applied in an effort to assuage fears that the track is not a safe place to compete. It’s been a never ending chase of wreck and response.
At what point will NASCAR and the owners of the tracks actually do some research before deciding things are good enough, or that we’ve had enough? How far back do you need to move the fans so a car disintegrating at the fence won’t send shreds of metal into the stands? Don’t feed me the line about taking a chance of dismemberment or disfigurement when attending a race. Just don’t. Don’t tell me the fence worked perfectly. I can’t believe it would do as well if the No. 3 hit it at a slightly different angle. And stop telling me the TV ratings justify maintaining these two tracks on the circuit. We stopped watching people kill each other in the ring a few hundred years ago.
Yes, the thought and idea of Daytona glistening in the Florida sun speaks to me as a race fan. In my gut, I still harbor the desire to attend a race there. But four times a year, I suffer through a broadcast that inevitably leaves me wondering why we go there at all. I’ve never visited Disney World because I despise the manner in which the Mouse manipulates the slathering masses of America. It sickens me that I have to put the location of the Great American Race in that same category.
We continue to feed a product to the world that has no value in it–not for competition, for guaranteeing a safe day at the track, or where we can report on a weekend without adding the pathetic caveat at the end that nobody died.
Daytona Rising. Out of what? The ashes of injured fans?
Don’t fix the fence. Don’t fix the walls. Don’t fancy up the seats. Just tear it down.
2011 Quaker State 400–Kentucky Motor Speedway
Not a Jeff Gordon memory. When I think of Kentucky, I think of traffic and everything that can go wrong when operations management doesn’t do their homework. I hear things have improved since this debacle, but what a way to enter into Sprint Cup competition!
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