Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cars won't stop getting airborne so it's time to strengthen the fences

Well, you knew it was coming.

A week after the events at Talladega and some writers are still chirping about cars becoming airborne in crashes at the two restrictor plate tracks.

Yes, NASCAR and the track operators MUST do everything within their power to prevent injuries in the grandstands. But as far as the cars becoming airborne, the only way to prevent it is to keep them parked safely in the garages.

What has NASCAR done in recent years to keep them on the ground? In the very first race run with restrictor plates at Daytona in February 1988, Richard Petty barrel-rolled through the short chute at Daytona and did damage to the catch fence there. NASCAR has implemented roof rails to disrupt the air flowing over the cars as they turn sideways, they've added skirts to the sides of the cars, they've actually flattened the sheet metal on the sides of the cars, they've put in lexan side windows, they've mandated roof flaps, and the list goes on and on...

And since that initial restrictor plate race there have been dozens of aero flips or blow-overs, and it's not been limited to just the two plate tracks. We've seen cars in the air at places like Michigan, Charlotte, and Pocono too.

No one wants to see anyone hurt. But professional racecar drivers have accepted that risk. And as a fan watching, I want to see an element of danger. I don't want just anyone driving racecars; I want the best and the bravest. Guys like Cale Yabourough, Bobby Allison, and yes, even the late Dale Earnhardt. It seems the cars have become so safe, so planted to the track via downforce and millions of dollars in engineering, that the drivers are almost like the jockeys lining up for the Kentucky Derby: they're fly weights that are guiding slotcars pinned to the track.

NASCAR should keep researching what causes their racecars to fly in certain situations. But they also need to understand that no matter what is done, nothing will ever fully prevent a racecar from lifting off and flipping through the air.

As much fun as it would be to turn them loose at Talladega without a restrictor plate and see who the bravest of the brave really is, that won't ever happen. But my guess is the millions of fans out there now have as much interest as I do in watching 43 cars drone around at 150 miles per hour planted to the asphalt. So here is our dilemma: let them run 190 and risk them getting airborne from time to time or slow them down to the point where they are virtually guaranteed not to get into the air when they turn sideways and lose the audience.

The answer isn't in keeping the cars on the ground. Truth is it makes for spectacular theater when someone goes for a barrel-rolling ride down the backstretch (as Matt Kenseth did on Saturday) or someone turns over through the tri-oval (as Carl Edwards did on Sunday). The answer is continuing to refine the catch fence and other barriers to prevent debris - even small pieces the size of a lugnut - from reaching the audience.

1 comment:

  1. I guess you didn't watch the race, or the multitude of re-plays shown over the last two days. Carl's car only got air-borne initially, the flaps caught it and was putting it back down when the REAL reason it got into the fence was put in play.

    Ryan Newman in the #39 put his hood under Carl and sent him up and around. Carl still would landed on the track if something else didn't get in the way.

    As carl got into the fence, his own hood (under the car)hit the top of the wall. that lifted him up to higher levels of the catchfence where the spray of parts could reach more people.

    So, the aerodynamics had nothing to with it. Neither did the "yellow line" rule, or the speeds at which they were racing. NONE of that was a factor. The simple fact of the matter is that a series of accidents applied to an out-of-control COT got the car higher than should.

    The fix? Ain't none. Elliot sadler did this at 185mph, without an out-of-bounds rule, and flaps. You can lower the banking, but then you've got Daytona. Shorten the track and you've got California. Remove the seats? Where? the tri-oval's more likely to have the crash, but it could happen in turn4, or at the line. No matter where you remove them, the crash will be elsewhere.

    The real fix is to hope this is the worst-case scenario, remind the public that they are in danger when they attend these events (as they've always been), and Race.