The Crash at Talladega

talladegaAdmittedly, I do not follow NASCAR very closely, but the news of Carl Edwards’ crash at Talladega this weekend and the injured fans is something that catches my attention.  As a casual fan, the idea of a big crash in the middle of a race is the type of exciting event that would actually get me to tune in or even attend a race.  However, a basic foundation of this sentiment is that the crash is contained on the track and my safety as a spectator is never a concern.  At some level, this crash changes this fundamental belief.

Historically, NASCAR has done a great job ensuring the safely of their ticket buyers, and they have been very proactive in their efforts to improve driver safety.  One specific measure has been to require restrictor plates on cars to keep speeds down on certain tracks, with the idea that this would reduce the risk of injuries from crashes.  However, some people, including Carl Edwards himself, believe that these efforts are either not enough or they are a part of the problem.  Take a look at this recent blog post from the Exhaust Fumes racing blog to learn more. 

The same level of effort needs to be directed at spectator safety.  I’m not saying they haven’t shown effort in this area – after all, the design of the fences and barriers did keep the car from going into the stands (debris from the car that caused the injuries).  I’m just saying that the focus might need to be shifted enough so that the public continues to feel safe with the product.

My ethics professor always used the line “dead customers is bad for business.”  It might seem like an ridiculously obvious statement, but even the idea that a customer could be at risk is just as bad.  I’m sure NASCAR is going to investigate their options on how to improve spectator safety even more, and I imagine they’ll find a way to overcome the bad PR associated with this event pretty quickly.  But if another event like this happens within the next season or two, they’ll find themselves headed down a very steep slope with their customers.

3 thoughts on “The Crash at Talladega

  • April 28, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Safety should be a concern for any sport. NASCAR Fans live for this kind of wreck and those who sit up front thrill at being close to the action. The fences can always be improved, people could be told to sit further away, but there is always an inherent risk.

    NASCAR is positively safe compared with motorsport like WRC (World Rally Championship) where spectators stand by the side of the road inches from the cars as they fly past at speed.

    Risk to spectators via a freak accident could happen in any sport – Hit by a golf ball or a wayward downhill skiier. That is not to say that NASCAR shouldn’t continue to innovate, but it should be kept in perspective.

  • April 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I watch Nascar and also have been to races so the act of a crash is very exciting as it is happening then turns to concern for the driver when everything quiets. There are many safety precautions at the track and I agree as in most sports the fans are safe 99.99% of the time. I have seen people hurt attending the Thanksgiving Parade (watch out for that falling light pole!) hit by golf balls, hurt at amusement parks and so on. The fact of the matter is people probably get hurt more by fan fighting for items landing in the stands (balls, bats, pucks etc) than getting hit by them.

  • April 28, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    All are valid concerns but the bottom line is that a lot of it was sour grapes on Carl Edwards’ part. He had a slower car and got wrecked on the last turn because he tried to block the guy who was trying to pass him (who eventually did, and won the race). Bobby Allison was involved in a similar wreck at this track in ’87 and I read in an interview yesterday that he didn’t see the need to change anything. The thrill of tracks like Talladega and Daytona is that these sorts of things can happen. That is why the fans flock to them. Ideally, you want to have the fans as safe as possible without compromising their enjoyment of the race. In this case, for better or worse, because no one was seriously injured, I highly doubt there will be any changes. They sure as hell will not mess with the restrictor plates to make the cars slower.

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