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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The legacy of the 2000s … improved driver safety in NASCAR

Right now, it’s easy to think the decade that is about to end was all about Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports, as the four straight titles by Johnson are fresh on our mind. Johnson will certainly have his place in history among the greats, and it was a great decade for Hendrick’s team as a whole.

But when you look at this decade … it’s all about a driver that’s long gone, and the great strides that have been made in NASCAR since he tragically passed.

Ten years ago, there was no Car of Tomorrow, with its safer cocoon for the driver.
Ten years ago, there was no such thing as soft walls, to absorb hard hits.
Ten years ago, drivers did not wear the HANS device to restrict their neck movement in crashes.
and so on …

All of these safety changes that were made in the wake of the deaths of Dale Earnhardt, Kenny Irwin Jr., Adam Petty and Tony Roper will be forever remembered as the essential changes necessary to protect the drivers in this dangerous sport we love.

Since Earnhardt’s death, which jolted a lagging NASCAR into action suddenly, no driver has been killed in the major three series – Cup, Nationwide or Trucks. There have been plenty of spectacular wrecks along the way, including Carl Edwards’ amazing trip into the Talladega fence, but every time the driver has walked away.

When I look back at the 2000s decade, this is what I will remember long into the future. I no longer had to wonder whether my driver was going to emerge alive from a wreck, thanks to these safety innovations. It’s still possible a driver will be killed, but much less likely.

Many people have complained about the COT, saying it has made the racing worse. They may have some valid points, but safety comes first. Now that the drivers are safer, NASCAR can take a look at tweaking the COT to make for better racing. I’d rather have safe drivers and average racing than dead drivers and great racing. My entertainment isn’t worth that price. Over time, I’m confident a good balance can be worked out, but so far I’d give the COT a grade of C. Let’s hope it evolves into an A over the next few years as changes are made.

Happy New Year
I wish you all a happy New Year’s Eve celebration Thursday night and hope you will all celebrate safely.
If you’re going to drink, get a cab or a designated driver. It’s not worth it to drive, as far too many bad thing could happen to you and others.

See you in 2010.


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