Race Weekend Central

What Usually Happens with Safety Equipment During a NASCAR Caution?

After the confusing and alarming performance of a certain ambulance during Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400, it seemed appropriate to review what typically happens once the yellow is thrown during the race.  While many drivers and tons of fans squarely placed the blame on NASCAR for the screw up, that may not entirely be correct.

On most Sundays David Hoots sits in race control and gives the call over the radio for the teams to crank up the engines, the pace car to roll off pit road, and a plethora of other orders.  He is known as the Race Director. You may get to listen to him if you have RaceView at home, or if you monitor the NASCAR scanner channel at the track.

When there is a spin on the track, Mr. Hoots will call, “Put it out!”  At the same time he presses a button on his desk that activates the caution lights around the track.  The pace car starts to roll but waits before entering the track until the driver hears Mr. Hoots tell him where the field is and when it is safe to roll up into the groove.

Safety trucks, including the tow trucks, clean up trucks, and ambulance are also instructed to be ready to roll, but to wait for direction from tower before moving an inch. Mr. Hoots will quickly decide which trucks he needs at the spot of a crash and notify each individual piece of equipment that they will be needed.

The call sounds like, ” Turn 4 Clean-Up they’re coming down the backstretch. You’re clear to go after the No. 34 passes.”  There may be a pause until the last car drives by and then Hoots clears the truck to go with, “Roll out Turn 4 Clean-Up.”

The race director will tell the responding vehicle whether to stop at the top of the track or park down on the apron. If the field is approaching from behind them again, he may warn the driver to stay in their vehicle until it is safe to get out of the truck. He orchestrates the movement of jet-dryers, ambulances, tow-trucks, and street sweepers such that they don’t create an obstacle to the field of competitors.

Now, for just one moment think about keeping track of 40 marbles spinning around a bowl, you need to position the biggest marble to roll in front of all of them, and then introduce up to dozen more marbles to weave in and out of the pack without causing a problem.  That is what Mr. Hoots does week in and week out without the majority of NASCAR Nation ever realizing what a miraculous juggling job he does.

Once the driver is in the ambulance, the car hooked up to the wrecker and the track swept, the director then tells the rescue vehicles when to start moving, where to drive on the track, and at what point to re-enter the infield.

On Sunday, according to Steve O’Donnell during his Monday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR, the ambulance that caused all the excitement during the race was told by Mr. Hoots to stay put on the backstretch and wait for the field to roll by.  The tow truck that was with the ambulance heard the directive and remained parked. The ambulance received another communication from somebody else at the same time, saw the third rescue vehicle roll off and followed.  But Mr. Hoots wasn’t giving orders to the ambulance. The rescue vehicle floored it and managed to run out in front of the field, the ambulance followed on what they thought was a good line and ended up blocking the entrance to pit road.

That’s where the breakdown occurred.

The race director gave the appropriate directions, but the ambulance simply didn’t receive them.

If you have ever had more than one channel open on your scanner, you can appreciate that it is very likely to get garbled messages as the radio struggles to keep one channel tuned in.

Was this snafu NASCAR’s fault? Well…it uncovered a fault in the system.  Safety crews are receiving directions from multiple people at the same time when the caution lights are blinking.  At the same time, it does take more than David Hoots to keep the entire event running without a bump in the road.

NASCAR does have a wrinkle to work on, that much is clear. But everybody needs to back off on the blame game for this near disaster and marvel that we haven’t seen this kind of foul up that often in the past.

If you have never listened to the tower during the race, I encourage you to do so the next time you are at the track. It truly opens up an entire angle to the race event that we blissfully ignore while Kyle Busch climbs out of his Toyota and bangs the roof of the car with his fist.

Something Shiny

Sometimes headlines write themselves.  This upcoming weekend we head to Chicagoland Speedway for the running of…wait for it…the Tales of the Turtles 400.  Since my first reaction had nothing to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I am wondering how many other sports fans are envisioning a large number tortoises lumbering down the frontstretch for a mind-numbing afternoon of racing boredom…oh, never mind. It’s a cookie cutter track, so it’s a totally apt name.

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