The airborne antics of Carl Edwards on the final lap of last weekend's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Super Speedway has been given more world-wide column inches and television air-time than the eventual Cup Champion is likely to get at the season's end in November!
Predictable, I suppose, and understandable. Few would deny that the spectacular last bend shenanigans were likely to cause a sensation. If you throw a 3500lb car into a fence at 180mph it's bound to get some attention!
How often does the tabloid press in the UK feature, as it has this week, a sequence of colour photos of any motorsport? Okay, so maybe Lewis Hamilton. But NASCAR? Ask a thousand people in the street about NASCAR and mostly, all you'll get is a blank look. So is the extra publicity good then?
These headlines will increase awareness of the sport in the UK, and with the trackside bum-to-seat ratio in the US a sensitive issue right now some might say all publicity is good publicity.
But what if the Talladega fence had breached? It doesn't bare thinking about the devastation that would have followed. And that kind of publicity would, most definitely, not be good for the sport!
There's no doubt that there is a proportion of fans who just love a big wreck and for this event the 'big one' was actively advertised by all. But at Talladega, this time, we were extremely fortunate that the injuries were relatively minor. So maybe it's good and bad publicity?
The post crash attitude of the two main protagonists of the four involved in this wreck was both striking and stunning!
Firstly, am I the only one that expected one or both of them to be fighting mad? Surely not? The consequences of what had happened, just minutes before Brad Keselowski (winner) and Edwards (human cannonball) gave live interviews, could have been huge. Maybe their comments were so soon after the wreck the enormity of it all had not yet sunk in?
Edwards seemed to accept the situation with grace and honesty, but did comment on the possibility of someone being killed before changes were made. It was unclear to me at the time if he meant to the track, cars, fence or rules. Brad, for his part, knew exactly what he'd done and was adamant that he was 100% within his rights, although he was sorry about the outcome.
In the zone
Keselowski and Edwards' reactions may have seemed incredibly controlled, perhaps because they were still in the 'zone' - that mindset that only the best race drivers know about and everyone else thinks they know about. I would describe it as almost super-human, sometimes cold, sometimes hyper-active, extremely matter-of-fact. But it gets a racer through anything that their job might throw at them. To mere mortals they might appear a couple of cool characters, shaken but not stirred! It's just a racer's natural reaction to the extremes; of disaster or success and everything in-between.
But in my days as a motorcycle racer I have seen the deaths of friends, spectators and track staff close up, and (since those days) I can tell you there is nothing remotely 'cool' about it. And, in retirement, that protective 'zone' evaporates, leaving memories that never recede.
This is why I say, after any major incident, it is the responsibility of every official to explore tirelessly every piece of evidence and make recommendations on how the sport can become even safer. That vigilance should never diminish as long as the sport evolves. Drivers, spectators and track staff lives depend on this basic principle.
Racers do what they do within the rules. There should be no area of ambiguity, and penalties should be applied evenly and consistently at all times. This is why I think there are some very serious issues to be addressed by NASCAR.
Talladega was a wake-up call. The circumstances of this accident show that, with the current rules as they are, neither driver was at fault yet both were responsible. The same circumstances would produce the same outcome. Keselowski went for a minimal gap, Edwards defended. Both are agreed, no argument or blame was apportioned by the drivers. And there was none by NASCAR. On a track where the Cup cars nudge 200mph routinely there will always be slight errors of judgement culminating in massive consequences, the 'big one'!
But let's consider more closely why this accident may have been unnecessary. On the run to the line, being pushed by Keselowski, Edwards would have known that the youngster would try for the win and, inevitably, he defended accordingly. But with NASCAR rules stating that you can't dip below the inside track marker line, Keselowski was not going to be bullied into backing off or dipping below the line to avoid contact and taking a penalty. Should NASCAR be even more specific as to what circumstances a driver can get below the line without penalty? Or should penalties be levied more evenly to drivers that are deemed to have pushed another below the line. It's a raging argument that we've heard already this year in all three NASCAR classes, and it is sure to be occupying the minds of officials again this week. And so it should.
On the (very) positive side, Talladega Super Speedway will be rightly proud that their staff and the safety fence were up to the job at the weekend. It's not often that the ultimate test comes around. If they fancy testing any other sections of fence though, it's probably best not to ask human cannonball Carl Edwards. And don't call him 'flipper' for the time-being, just flipping lucky!
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Warren Newcombe says...
I agree with the comments by David Gibson, it's 'Just Racin''. Crashes like this happen all the time, and it's just the media that decide what's hot and what's not for public consumption. NASCAR have stringent safety rules that protect both drivers and public against events like the recent incident with Edwards, and crashes in the past (likewise in IRL/CART). This isn't a wake up call for NASCAR, just another incident that is inevitable when you have 43 cars running at close quarters at speeds of up to 200mph. Perhaps you only decided to focus on this because Edwards is your favourite driver? 'JUST RACIN''.
Posted 10:33 9th May 2009
Kevin Gravenell says...
TALLADEGA BABY ! It doesnt get any better than this anywhere in the world a 15 car pile up, a 10 car pile up cars flying a first time winner huge packs of cars at 200mph bumper to bumper racing. if you didnt enjoy that then your not a motorsport fan full stop, it was breathtaking. just a shame jeff gordon didnt win. there is nothing wrong with talladega the way it is all the safety equipment did what it was meant to do.shows you how boring formula one is.
Posted 11:56 29th April 2009
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