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Friday, August 15, 2014

New NASCAR rules on staying in car are necessary; Focus should be on safety, not entertainment

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- When Kevin Ward Jr. was killed on track in New York by Tony Stewart under caution in a terrible accident last weekend, we all knew there would be repercussions in the NASCAR level of motorsport.

The famous helmet-throwing incidents of the past, and similar situations, would have to be addressed. After someone dies after getting out of their car, how can you not? (By the way, I'm not one of the folks who have been spouting off online that it was Kevin Ward Jr.'s fault that he got killed due to how he walked toward the traffic. That's crass. The reality is that this was a horrific accident that nobody wanted to happen).

Early Friday morning at MIS, the official reaction from NASCAR came with the Addendum to the NASCAR rule book in Section 16-9, regarding On-Track Procedure.

The sum of it is that if your car is stopped, unless there is fire in the car or another reason you have to leave the vehicle, you will keep all safety equipment connected until directed to leave the car by officials. And:
-- "At no time should a drier or crew member approach any portion of the racing surface or apron"
-- "At no time should a driver or crew member approach another moving vehicle"

These are common sense rule changes -- and pretty much were already the rules but were just being ignored -- and this could help prevent another tragedy. It was needed.
Drivers asked about the rule clarification were in support, not surprisingly since they're the ones whose safety is improving.

I think NASCAR does a really good job of looking at all the information and making the best decision they can make," Jeff Burton said. "I support the decision that they feel like it's what they need to do.  It's pretty simple.  I'm proud that they want safety to be on the forefront.  That's what this rule is all about

David Ragan also weighed in:
“It’s a good decision on NASCAR’s behalf to be proactive. We are constantly reminded how our race cars can be dangerous. And if this is a step to make the driver safer after an accident or to prevent an accident from happening while getting out of the race car, this is a good move by NASCAR and I support it.  I think it’s a move you’ll see from a lot of other series as well.”

Kyle Larson said it's basically the rules that were in place, and a matter of more enforcement:“It’s basically still the same rules we have had.  I think just kind of reminding us and maybe going to be stricter with it.  Where we have to stay in the car until the safety workers get to us. Then stay in line under cautions and things like that, which is basically what we do now I just think they are just reminding us.  If you are on fire or something you obviously have to get out.  It’s good that they are reinforcing it and like I said reminding us again.” 
But, you're always going to have questions: The one being thrown about today is "Will this diminish the entertainment value of the sport?"

I know we have to consider this stuff, but the very concept of the question makes me ill.

I watch NASCAR for the racing. I want to see drivers battle each other door to door, crews compete on pit road to see whose driver can get out first, and see exciting racing in general.

I don't want to see wrecks and don't look forward to them (though I know they are inevitable on some level).

And I damn sure don't need to see drivers throwing things at each other on track to enjoy watching the race.

If you do, I suggest you stop watching motorsports -- that is not what this is about.
NASCAR's Robin Pemberton summed it up well -- this isn't about entertainment; it's about safety.
"This will be a behavioral‑type thing and they'll be addressed according to each situation,"Pemberton said Friday, "This rule is really put in place for the safety of all of our competitors. It's safety first right now."

Honestly, the likelihood that a NASCAR driver would get killed on-track due to someone getting out of their car is pretty slim. But it's best not to take that chance at all.

Here is the official wording of the statement from NASCAR:
               ".During an event, if a racecar is involved in an on‑track incident, and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface, and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating circumstances and conditions exist with the racecar, example, on fire or smoke in the cockpit, et cetera, the driver should take the following steps:
               Shut off electrical power, and if the drivers is uninjured, lower the window net.
               Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR official.
               After being directed to exit the racecar, the driver should proceed either to the ambulance or other vehicle or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or NASCAR official.
               At no time should a driver, crew member or members approach any portion of the racing surface or apron.
               At no time should a driver, crew member or members approach another moving vehicle.
               All vehicles not involved in the incident or that are able to continue afterwards should slow down to a cautious speed as outlined in section 10‑4, yellow flag rules.
               Use extreme care as they approach an incident scene and follow any direction given by safety personnel or NASCAR officials.
               Cars in line behind a safety car should not weave or otherwise stray from the line in the vicinity of an accident."
Matt Myftiu can be reached at, or on Twitter @MattMyftiu.


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