Jim Downing, the former sports car driver and principal of the HANS device (head and neck support) said that short tracks and drag strips are deficient due to “lack of proper safety equipment.”
Downing, president of HANS Performance Products said, at the IMIS Safety and Technical Conference in Indianapolis that driver fatalities on those tracks have been increasing because those types of tracks lag the safety equipment required at the bigger ovals.
“There was a significant increase in deaths at U.S. race tracks in the ten years after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal accident at Daytona – compared to the ten years before his fatal crash,” said Downing. “This is a fact that escapes most people involved in motor racing, because they mistakenly believe all the safety improvements have trickled down to the weekend warriors. That is not the case.”
|Martinsville track. (Photo: NASCAR)
Downing based his opinion on a Charlotte Observer study titled “Death at the Track,” in the years 1991 to 2001 the total number of driver deaths from crashes was 144. During the ten-year period after Earnhardt’s death, the total rose to 171, an alarming increase of 27 driver fatalities due to racing accidents.
Part of the problem, Downing opined, was due to the fact that these type of local tracks are not televised so that news of injuries or fatalities don’t make it into the mainstream media.
The safety needs to improve on short ovals and on drag strips where weekend warriors are participating and where the most deaths are occurring, said Downing. Of the 171 deaths during the years 2001 to 2011, 126 occurred on these types of tracks. SAFER barriers may not be feasible, said Downing, but his presentation documented that 34 of the deaths involved the type of head and neck injuries prevented by Head and Neck Restraints.
“When weekend warriors die on short tracks or drag strips, it doesn’t get the kind of media coverage that takes place in major series,” said Downing. “But we’ve identified the same type of head and neck injuries that killed drivers on superspeedways are also killing them at lower speeds on short ovals. On drag strips, drivers are hitting the walls head on. A Head and Neck Restraint can prevent these unnecessary racing deaths.”
Another problem is that the smaller sanctioning bodies may not require HANS devices due to their cost.