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Voices from the Heartland: Michael McDowell Incident a PR Bonanza for NASCAR

Before I go too far into this article and ruffle some serious feathers, I want to make it perfectly clear that no one, with the possible exception of Michael McDowell and his family, was as glad as myself to see Michael emerge virtually unscathed from the tangled wreckage that used to be his racecar last Friday. His impact with the wall and subsequent barrel roll during his qualifying run was truly one of the most horrific and spectacular crashes that fans have witnessed in recent memory.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable that I’m here today driving. That was obviously a very serious wreck. I want to thank everybody at NASCAR who have really worked hard on making this new car safe,” said McDowell at a Saturday NASCAR news conference.

Everywhere you look since that accident, this site included, the press has had nothing but praise and applause for the car formerly know as the CoT. Suddenly this new car is the best thing in racing since Brian France, who by the way, is probably sitting around the mahogany bar in his office, telling anyone who will listen for the umpteenth time, about how he personally saved McDowell’s life by dreaming up this whole new car in the first place. Now I know that is an exaggeration, but let face it, if you were to believe everything that’s being said in the media these days, you would think that up until the CoT arrived, 5-10 racers a year were getting killed. That is not the case.

There are two simple things that saved McDowell’s life last Friday; the HANS device and SAFER barriers. Plain and simple. End of story. To take it to another level, McDowell owes his life more to Dale Earnhardt Sr. than he does the new car. (And no, this is not another “homage” to Dale Sr.)

I don’t care what you say, (and there are drivers in the garage that agree) if simply left to the CoT, without the SAFER barrier or the HANS device that was MANDATED by NASCAR after Dale’s demise, McDowell most likely would not be with us today.

Now before you all want to start nailing some of my most prized body parts to a stump and push me over backwards, don’t think that I’m not saying that there haven’t been some improvements that have come with the new car, for there have. However, there is nothing new or special about the new car that couldn’t have been done to the old.

We have been witnessing spectacular and violent crashes in this sport for years, long before NASCAR’s lifesaving CoT. 99% of the time, those involved have walked away virtually unhurt. The ones that haven’t didn’t have the benefit of BOTH the HANS and the SAFER barriers. Driver Jerry Nadeau comes to mind.

In May of 2003, when Jerry spun and hit the wall broadside at Richmond International Raceway, he was wearing the HANS but he did not impact a SAFER barrier. They weren’t installed until about four months AFTER Jerry’s career-ending crash. Of course, no one can say with certainty that the new wall would have lessened Jerry’s injury, but you can be certain that it would have lessened the impact. If you remember, NASCAR seemed to think that it would have. Would the CoT by itself have done that? Would Michael’s new car, had it hit concrete instead of steel tubes and foam, be so lauded as it is being now?

Yes, there are improvements in safety built into the new car, but let’s give credit where credit is due. SAFER barriers and the HANS device saved Michael’s life – not Brian France’s new toy car. If it was just the car, we’d have had a lot more blood on the track these last few years. Don’t be duped by the NASCAR PR that the mainstream press is helping to propagate.

Stay off the wall (they’re still pretty hard, HANS device or no!)

Jeff Meyer

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