For the Love of Racing…….

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“My mentality on what we do is, it’s all dangerous,” Ed Carpenter said. “And that’s part of my frustration. Any time I get in a car, I know it might be my last day. There’s no guarantees in what we do, ever. That’s what frustrates me, some drivers who think the only way we’re going to get hurt is in some kind of pack racing. To me, that’s ridiculous. Dario (Franchitti’s) career was ended on a street course, not a pack race. Dan (Wheldon) died in a pack race. Plenty of others have died on road courses. Tony Renna died at the Speedway and he was the only car on the track. What we do is dangerous. So for me, I’m okay with that. This is what I want to do.

 

Since the beginning of time (in racing) there have been deaths.  In 1926, Jack Nunnaly crashed and died during practice at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.   In 1922, Frank Norris died in a sports car accident at Arlington park.  In 1916, nearly 100 years ago, Bob Burman died in a crash in Corona at a sports car race.   Yes, speed kills.  Something we have all been taught since the early days of driving.

If you look at the list of deaths in motor sports on Wikipedia (Click here) you will notice that in the 50’s and 60’s are when a majority of the racing deaths occurred.  What happened after that?  Safety modifications.  In the 60’s we saw more roll cages, in the 50’s with roll bars, and in the 40’s the use of helmets.  But why the sudden downturn in the 70’s and on?  Track and series safety.  In the 70’s tracks and manufacturers began implementing new safety features.  Belts in car’s became stronger due to stricter regulations,  cars began being designed to absorb more damage, while still going faster.  They were no longer being designed for speed exclusively.

Every level of racing has experienced a loss in one way or another, whether it’s a crash which involves spectators, or a practice crash at one of the most renowned places in racing history, which claims the life of a young superstar.

Ask every racing driver that steps on the grid, they know that with the pursuit of speed, comes the pushing and stretching of boundaries of reality and life.

When Dan Wheldon died, I sat stone faced on my couch for two hours without saying a word.  I was blown away with what I had just witnessed.   But, days before, I had a ticket to Las Vegas and my IndyCar credential in hand, ready to head out to see the race that would claim the life of a young and talented driver and father.  I made the decision, that financially, it was best for me not to make the trip.  I sent well-wishing text messages to my friends that would be in the race, Dan included, and sat down to watch the race.

Dan was aware of the risks he took every time he stepped onto the grid.  He had wrecked many times.  Just a year earlier, he had witness JR Hildebrand hit the turn 4 wall at Indy hard, which enabled Dan to win the Indianapolis 500.  He even knew that, yes, the Vegas race would be pack racing and there would be big wrecks.  So why did he do it?  Why did he strap in that day?  You.   Yes, you, and me, and every person watching at home.  Dan Wheldon loved to race, and he loved the energy he felt from the fans.  If you think Dan cared about the money that GoDaddy had put up for the promotion you have another thing coming.  Dan was set to sign a lucrative contract with GoDaddy to take over for Danica as their IndyCar representative, and there was no better person for the job.  He went out there to put on a show for the fans.  And that was it.  Purely for the love of racing.   And in the end, we lost one of open wheel racing’s brightest stars.

Yesterday, on my way home from my office job, I was listening to Comedy Central radio on Sirius/XM and a comedian came on talking about how at funerals people always talk about “…dying doing what they love”..  While the context of the jokes were completely off center from my point here, I would fathom the guess that a large percentage of racing drivers on the grid would say that racing is what they love, and they understand the risk they are taking, including potential loss of life.

A more recent case, Fernando Alonso.  In his most recent run in with the wall, he woke up thinking he was 13 years old again.  What do you think he dreamed of doing when he was 13?  Being a racing driver.  The irony was not lost on me when I read that story.

In short, the point that I am trying to make echoes the sentiment that Ed Carpenter has said.  As a driver, you understand that every time you strap in you could lose your life.  But every weekend, there are more drivers tightening their belts, kissing their wives/girlfriends, and heading out onto the oval or road/street course.  For the love of racing.  For the love of the fans.

I have many friends that race, every weekend, and every time one of them hits the wall, I hold my breath.  I cringe, I wonder.   But, I know this.  There is a safety crew that SAVES LIVES, and there are safety measures in place, and they get better EVERY day.

That said, I will echo the sentiment of Ed Carpenter.  If you don’t want to own the risk, doing what you love, then maybe it is time to retire.  I will respect each of you if you make that decision.  Mike Conway stepped away from ovals, I respect him for that.  Simona De Silvestro can’t stop catching on fire at the Speedway, but she keeps coming back.   Dario Franchitti, a PRIME example, of a love for racing, is forced to retire, and wishes he could get back into a car….for the love of racing.

I will leave you with the words of Trevor Bayne,  “..life is a mist, it’s here and then it’s gone,….I just hope people will remember that — that you’re only here for a short time and what you do with that (time) is really important.”

Tweet this story to your favorite racing driver, and let’s hear what they have to say.

 

Tony Tellez

One Comment

  1. I agree completely that racing will always be dangerous. I was around USAC racing in the 60’s and unfortunately saw many serious crashes when safety was more or less an afterthought. As you point out safety measures and equipment evolved and deaths and serious injuries demished. If the goal of the sanctioning body is to reduce risk – as I believe all legitimate sanctioning bodies are or should be – then every aspect of the sport should be considered. Racing (semi) open wheel cars at the speed and close proximity present at Fontana is a risk that can be reduced by simple rules which would improve competition. Take away down force and increase horsepower. Racing will not be mash and point. Drivers will have to lift and brake and speeds will increase, yes increase, and it will be much safer. Look at The outright speed records at Indy. Straight-a-way speeds were higher and corner speeds were lower. Passes were made on entry or exit not by drafting on the straights. Drivers skills were the determining factor, not pit strategy and fuel mileage. Was Fontana a good race? It depends on your perspective. It was great if you enjoy wondering when someone might be killed. It wasn’t if you prefer racing where driver skills and car preparation determine the outcome. Sign me up for the latter.

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