More than 520 people have died in U.S.

auto racing in past 25 years

Charlotte Observer

August 16, 2014

By Gary Schwab, Ames Alexander and David Scott - gschwab@charlotteobserver.com, aalexander@charlotteobserver.com

NASCAR has not had a death at any of its top levels since investing millions of dollars in safety after Dale Earnardt’s death on national television at the Daytona 500 in 2001. The effort produced mandatory head-and-neck restraints, crash-absorbing walls at NASCAR’s top series tracks, and a new, safer car.

Most short-track owners have not mandated head-and-neck restraints or other safety features to cars. Much like NASCAR’s reaction to Earnhardt’s death, the smaller venues have responded to individual tragedies. But unlike NASCAR, short tracks haven’t made sweeping safety changes.

“Short track racing is usually mayhem, hopefully controlled,” said H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, former longtime president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “That’s what people want. It’s like ice hockey with cars.”

@2016 by  S.A.F.I.R. Hockey. All rights reserved.

Job won’t be done until NASCAR tracks have padded every wall

Charlotte Observer

May 23, 2015

BY SCOTT FOWLER   sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

[NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18) hit an unprotected wall at Daytona International Speedway in February and broke multiple bones. It took him three months to return to racing. This photo was taken a few hours before Busch’s accident at Daytona on Feb. 21, which renewed calls for NASCAR to mandate “soft walls” in its top series.]













NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (18) hit an unprotected wall at Daytona International Speedway in February and broke multiple bones. It took him three months to return to racing. This photo was taken a few hours before Busch’s accident at Daytona on Feb. 21, which renewed calls for NASCAR to mandate “soft walls” in its top series. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

I am not an engineer. But I do believe SAFER barriers save lives.

I am not an expert on NASCAR’s finances. But I do know that the star drivers are the sport’s biggest asset and that assets have to be protected.

I am not an alarmist. But I can’t understand why that, if you have the technology available to make something safer, you don’t commit to it completely and save more people from getting hurt or killed.

Bottom line: The tracks that host NASCAR’s biggest races still aren’t moving fast enough to get the energy-absorbing SAFER barriers everywhere they need to be.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of many tracks that are working on the problem and installing more barriers of various kinds to cushion concrete walls to keep drivers safer.

But I don’t think the sport as a whole has the same sense of urgency that it once did, when Dale Earnhardt’s death was fresher. And that’s inexcusable.

Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to Darrell Waltrip – a former driver good enough to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and now one of the leading television analysts in the sport.

“You can halfway fix something,” Waltrip said when we talked by phone recently. “You can take a little bit of technology, and you can apply part of it. But here’s my simple fix: If there’s a wall that is facing the racetrack, that wall should have a SAFER barrier on it. Why do you have to wait until somebody hits something and go, ‘Wow! Oh, we never thought a car would hit there?’”

I pointed out that SAFER barriers (commonly called “soft walls”) are estimated to cost $500 a foot. That means it can cost $2.6 million to install a mile’s worth of the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers.

“There’s no excuse,” Waltrip said. “If you know something will save someone’s life, or keep somebody from getting hurt, there’s no such thing as ‘Cost Prohibitive.’ It might be ‘Effort Prohibitive’ or ‘We Don’t Want To Do It’ prohibitive, but cost should not be a factor.”


For the past decade – in part because of Earnhardt’s death in 2001 after he hit an outside wall on the last lap of the Daytona 500 – tracks throughout NASCAR’s top series have been obligated to install SAFER barriers at least in the corners.

But NASCAR does not make the tracks turn every inside and outside wall into a “soft wall,” even though high-profile drivers such as Jeff Gordon have also advocated that approach. Instead, tracks evaluate the issue on a case-by-case basis along with NASCAR and engineers from the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which makes recommendations on which walls at each track are most likely to be hit and would most benefit from soft walls.