Race Weekend Central

The Post-Race Panic: Something That Needs Attention

Driving your car into a crowd of people seems completely unbelievable, doesn’t it? Especially when the police department quickly determined that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol.  It simply stymies the imagination.

Well, the unthinkable happened at Martinsville Sunday evening about an hour after the end of the race. It looks like a person trying to depart from the parking lot situated behind turns 1 and 2 got so frustrated that they couldn’t get by a JEEP sitting in traffic, they decided that plowing their car through a crowd of fans waiting for autographs by the helicopter pad was the only way out. Nine were sent to the hospital while 13 were treated at the scene for minor scrapes, cuts and bruises. How could this happen?

Let’s look at the stress that you and I undergo while attending a Sprint Cup event–at any track on the circuit. If we’re driving in for the race, we get up early and load up the car with backpacks, beverages and a bunch of family and friends. By 9AM latest we’ve hit the highway.  By 11AM, we are either happily munching away on BBQ and nachos or sitting in an endless traffic jam while the radio talks about the giant crowds descending on our target event. If we made it to the track, it’s all gravy.  Still, there’s two hours or more to while away buying T-shirts, junk food and whacking a mole at a promotional tent.

If we’re in the jam, our blood pressure is already simmering.  There’s plenty of time.  It’ll be fine.

Once we find a parking space, there is the lengthy hike to the gates where a massive mob is waiting for their coolers to be checked by the local cheerleading squad.  We smile and take it.  There’s still time.

Inside we decide to get that hot dog or signature burger that is part of our racing Sunday tradition.  It’s okay that the line for the kettle korn or a giant frozen drink in a coconut is a mile long, we have committed ourselves to waiting it out.  By now, it’s about 1PM and we’ve spent six hours struggling to achieve a hard seat thirty rows up a gleaming aluminum grandstand.

Then there’s the race.  It could be a barn burner, but usually we have four hours of studying the trajectory of 40 cars attempting the same corner a couple hundred times. That is 10 hours committed to hopefully a day of revelry.  But now it is time to go–reverse the process.

We’re not Superman.  There is not a bottomless well of energy and smiles within our stalwart NASCAR hearts.  We now face thirty minutes of shuffle-stepping to our cars, rubbing elbows with 80,000 other fans equally eager to reach their vehicle. Right! We made it! Insert the key in the ignition, turn it over and…wait.

There’s no doubt the person responsible for the incident on Sunday had enough waiting. They had reached the boiling point and tipped into that dark place most of us avoid.  Actually, I find it surprising we don’t see more of these incidents at the track.  I don’t know how many times I have physically been moved out of the way by a golf cart, tram, track worker or fan’s car while trying to escape after the race.  While some tracks have pedestrian walkways and bridges, it’s never quite enough to keep the motorized cavalcade separate from the infantry.

Many locations hold vehicular traffic for an hour or two to help ease the conflict between man and machine. However, it does little to reduce the amount of frustration we can encounter on a long, hot day.

The clash between driver and pedestrian at Martinsville was a result of a century of racing tradition mingling with our lightspeed daily lives. As fans we understand that part of the price for watching our heroes up close and live is having to wait for everything on that special day.  It’s the job of the venue to manage traffic flow to reduce those roadblocks in a way that keeps us smiling, even after twelve long hours.

We’re still waiting to hear all the details regarding this specific accident.  However, it did put a spotlight on a situation that NASCAR faces every week, and must continue to strive to help avoid in the future.

SOMETHING SHINY

A single Cup driver entered the Camping World Series race on Saturday afternoon.  Chase Elliot, naught but a rookie in the Cup series, was the only one who threatened to steal a win from a Chaser in the Truck series this week.  How refreshing!  This gave us a taste of what NASCAR hopes to achieve next year with the reduction of Cup driver eligibility in the lower series.  Imagine, drivers actually being able to win a race in their own series…it’s about bloody time!

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