How could that happen?
For the majority of the non-racing world, this was the reaction as the headlines of the California 200 tragedy filtered down through the news outlets. An off-road truck in the opening miles of the race took a jump. When it landed, it rolled over into the crowd of spectators, killing eight and sending 12 more to the hospital. Truly the kind of horrific story I hate to see unfold in the racing community, and yet can understand.
Already, questions are arising about why the fans are permitted to get so close to the race course in these events — the victims were no more than 10 feet away from the flying trucks. Where were the safety barriers? Piles of tires? Bales of hay? Or even a tape marking off where the crowds are allowed to stand? Those kinds of measures are surely part and parcel of events where there is an actual track.
In NASCAR, we the fans are protected by 20-foot high fencing designed to throw an incoming vehicle back onto the track. Tires, hoods and other parts that have a tendency to pop off at the most inopportune moments have tethers. Even better, the fans are removed by a relatively large distance compared to road rallies and desert races.
However, in the desert, the course is defined by a few flags and some packed earth. The spectators congregate around the most exciting portions of the track where the trucks tend to find air or take tight turns. There are no assigned seats, minimal security for the vast 50-mile loop and only the decisions of the fans determine where the yellow line will be.
You might think that is a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately Saturday night proved it so. But ask many fans and they answer that they’d rather take the risk for the chance to get close to a raging airborne monster.
Risk vs. reward. It’s a topic we often visit when drivers are injured or killed while chasing a checkered flag. They understand the ultimate sacrifice may be asked of them when they chose to follow their dream of victory. But is it a question we ask ourselves when we pack the cooler and buy a ticket? Should we?
Yes, we should. On the back of my ticket in teeny-tiny print is a disclaimer. It tells me this is a dangerous sport. People get hurt. And it is the responsibility of every person involved to think about safety… including the fans.
Would you stand on the interstate 10 feet away from passing traffic? And yet, when we attend a sporting event, those seemingly common sense decisions we make correctly the rest of the year seem to disappear when the opportunity to smell the exhaust and feel the wind of unfettered machinery is offered up to us. And where one person decides to tease the tiger, others must follow. It’s human nature.
I am not placing blame for this accident on anybody. I am simply taking the opportunity to remind all of us that we are responsible for our actions, especially when there is nobody around to enforce common sense rules.
So please, when you go to a race — whether it be on a closed circuit, road rally, drag strip or wide-open desert — make the responsible choice. Decide you want to go home to your friends and family. Seek a safe place to enjoy the show, encourage others to join you and spare the competitors the pain of suffering through a truly tragic experience.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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