Summer Bedgood · Saturday February 23, 2013
As I sit here staring at a computer screen and an empty Word document, I struggle with how to begin. After all, at the beginning of the day, as I prepared to watch what I expected to be a great Nationwide Series race, never did I anticipate what we’d be talking about at this moment.
Such a freak accident. It’s not often that fans are impacted directly by what happens on the racetrack; but, as Kyle Larson’s race car flew through the air and into the catchfence, most of us watching immediately knew the consequences of what we had just seen Saturday afternoon. We saw fire, half of Larson’s car in the infield, and a good chunk of the other half, along with a tire and many other pieces, flung into the grandstands. Our stomachs sank, a lump formed in our throat, we said a silent prayer, and collectively held our breaths.
Of course, we now know most of what transpired. Anywhere from 28 to 33 fans were injured, including one child, and at least two listed in critical condition. While details were hard to come by, the most promising news was the part that never came: casualties. While there were some trauma-related injuries, including one life-threatening at first everyone was reported as stable and that was much better than what many of us expected.
However, even if things turn out worse than we anticipated, that’s not why I’m writing this column. I’m not here to point fingers, place blame, or even talk about all of the safety aspects NASCAR needs to consider looking into.
I’m simply here to attempt to be a voice of reason, as hard as that is. Most of us probably don’t know any of the fans who were hurt in the grandstands, but yet so many of us were personally affected by their injuries. Why? Because NASCAR is, in a way, one big family. We might disagree in the strongest way and maybe even be a little mean about it at times. However, when one of our own, from a fan, to a crewman, to a member of the media, to a driver is injured or in any way in danger, we rally around them and want to help. It’s just something that comes along with being part of NASCAR Nation. Saturday was no different.
However, for some reason, we also want someone to blame. On Twitter, there was plenty to go around; someone tried to blame Brad Keselowski for making such a daring move. Others spewed their venom at Regan Smith for blocking. Still others tried to blame NASCAR for allowing restrictor plate racing to exist at all. Fingers were pointed and attempts were made to try and answer the question, “Why?!”
But that’s not constructive. It’s not helpful, and it certainly won’t give those people in the grandstands their health back. Yes, NASCAR needs to look into why this happened beyond simple physics and what, if anything, can be done to ensure that it never happens again. And if the sport has shown that they care about anything, in recent years it’s the safety of every single person inside that racetrack.
In the meantime, it would be much more helpful for everyone to rally around each other, NASCAR and the drivers included. Simply think back to the introduction of every new generation of cars, especially in the past decade. What was emphasized more than anything? Safety. From the roll cages, the driver’s seat, the HANS device, and everything in between, every single time NASCAR makes a change to the car they make it safer.
Additionally, we should recall when Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards had their incident in 2009, when several fans in the grandstands were injured as a result. NASCAR immediately looked at the catchfence and did their best to fix the problem.
Safety is NASCAR’s number one concern. There is no doubt about that. In fact, I would suffice it to say that we more than likely would have had some deaths at the racetrack — both in the grandstands and on Daytona’s asphalt — if not for their improvements to the way these cars were built these past several years. Unfortunately, you can never, ever prepare for everything. As I said before, today was a freak accident. We likely won’t see the same thing for a long time, if ever. Does that mean NASCAR shouldn’t do anything about it? No, but it does mean we should manage our outrage. If NASCAR, Daytona, or the drivers had been able to foresee something like this horror, they would have done something about it a long time ago.
This point is in no means my way of saying we should be OK with what happened. On the contrary! My heart breaks for fans who used this day as a vacation for their family, only to wind up in the hospital for something completely out of their control. It’s one thing for a competitor to be injured in a sport that is well known for its danger and carnage; but for a spectator who is there for nothing other than supporting the driver and the sport they love? Unthinkable.
The main point I’m making here is simple: direct your emotions in the right place. Instead of being angry at the competitors, say a prayer for the victims. Rather than send an angry letter to NASCAR, send a supportive tweet to the fans who were there and saw things that they will never be able to erase from their memories. Don’t jump to conclusions about what happened and instead rest assured that we will not look back on this day in vain. Changes will be made, for certain in the future and both fans and competitors will be safer because of it.
And if you’re heading to the racetrack this weekend or any time this season, be sure to hug your family and maybe share a beverage with your neighbors in the grandstands. Not because of what might happen, but because you are a part of a great big family known as NASCAR Nation. What could be better than that?
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