"NASCAR doesn't make quick decisions," says team owner Eddie Wood, whoseson Jon races in the Craftsman Truck Series. "It makes good decisions."Be that as it may, much of what NASCAR decided to do in recent years wasalready commonplace in open wheel series like CART and the Indy RacingLeague (IRL):
* The HANS device was developed more than a decade ago by Jim Downing,who first used it in IMSA sport cars.
* CART and the Indy Racing League have 10 years experience with crashdata recorders (introduced with tech support by General Motors Racing),and working with both Ford and General Motors to study what happensinside a car during impact.
* The safety seats now showing up in stock cars mimic those developedfor open wheel racing in the early-'90s.
PRESSURE FROM THE DRIVER SEAT
Today the pressure is on NASCAR to take a more aggressive role inprotecting drivers, and it is coming from inside the cars. For decades,Winston Cup drivers simply considered burns and broken bones as part ofthe cost of doing business. But last season some of them becameunwilling to accept NASCAR's lack of speed when it comes to safety. Theybegan speaking out on issues such as rescue workers apparentlyunfamiliar with the inside of a stock car, poor response time by medicaltechnicians, and the dangers of sitting in a burning car in the middleof a track while cars race past them under the yellow flag.
Vicious crashes by Bobby Labonte (1) , Kenny Wallace (2), Dale Jarrett(3), and Kenny Schra
Driver Ryan Newman said the rescue crew that responded to him after heflipped at Watkins Glen in the fall was unsure how to get him out of thecar. "It was pretty ridiculous," Newman says. "When they got there, theydidn't know what they were doing. I'll be vocal about it because it's mybutt sitting in that race car," Newman stresses.
NASCAR, in recent years, has attracted drivers--Newman, Jeff and RobbieGordon, Casey Mears, and Christian Fittipaldi--who have seen how thingsare done elsewhere and have become critical of the contrasts.
NASCAR's policy that allows drivers to race back to the stripe under ayellow flag has come under sharp criticism. Other series freeze cars inplace, so to speak, when the caution comes out, and punish drivers whopass another car under the yellow flag. "I just don't think we could dothat with 43 cars, some of them running four wide," NASCAR's Nelsonsays. "And even if we could, it might take 30 minutes to sort it all outbefore we could get back to racing."
Back in the pack, you could have one driver who decides to slow down,but two more behind him who decide to take advantage of the situation,he said. The latter point doesn't seem to be an issue with the seriesthat don't race to the stripe under caution.
Racing to the stripe means cars pass through wreckage at racingspeeds--often causing secondary crashes--and it prevents rescue crewsfrom rolling until the pace car captures the field. "I guarantee you itis something every driver would like to see changed," says JimmyJohnson, driver of the Lowe's Chevrolet. Johnson also wants a rescueteam similar to the one used in CART and the Indy Racing League.
[Editor's Note: As we went to press, NASCAR banned racing back to thestripe, beginning at the Fall Dover event. Finally.]
TRAVELING SAFETY CREWS
CART has its own rescue/medical unit that travels to each race. Itincludes a portable trauma center better equipped than the emergencyrooms of many small hospitals. It arrives with trucks equipped forracetrack injuries and trauma doctors who know the medical history ofeach driver. The crews are EMTs from around the country who during theweek, staff ambulances and medical evacuation helicopters.