It’ safer, but it’s still dangerous
NASCAR races can be deceiving as drivers occasionally go bump in the night while chasing speed.
Cars get destroyed. Racers walk away unscathed. All is good. Until it’s not.
NASCAR will be one man down this season. Aric Almirola is on the mend after suffering a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra during a multi-car pileup at Kansas Speedway on Saturday.
Almirola “is mobile and will followup with his doctors in Charlotte” after his release from a Kansas City hospital. He is back at his home in Mooresville, N.C., and will be out at least six weeks.
“Well, I mean, it’s a dangerous sport,” Brad Keselowski told reporters after the race. “Always has been; always will be. Sometimes we forget that and maybe take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away, and then you see one where someone doesn’t, and it puts things back into perspective just how dangerous it can be.”
The sport is not nearly as dangerous as it was in February 2001 when Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 after hitting the outside wall on Turn 4. Earnhardt, 49, suffered a severe fracture to the base of his skull, causing bruising and bleeding in the soft tissue in his brain.
And it’s not nearly as dangerous as it was in May 2000 when Adam Petty, 19, died from a traumatic brain injury after an accident during a practice lap at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
NASCAR officials got up to speed on increasing safety standards, making head-restraint devices mandatory and putting up SAFER barriers at tracks to help soften wall impacts.
All these innovations have lulled us into a sense of security. Cars routinely flip in the air at Talladega, everybody cheers, and drivers walk away unhurt.
No one has died in any of NASCAR’s three highest levels of racing — Monster Energy Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series — since Earnhardt’s accident.
“NASCAR has made really good safety improvements over the past 10, 15 years,” Kansas pole-sitter Ryan Blaney said, “and they’re always improving, so they’ll look at that incident and see what they can do better to prevent that from happening ever again.”
Accidents like the one in Kansas obviously give everyone pause. Almirola’s No. 43 Ford was involved in a fiery multi-car accident on Lap 200 during Saturday night’s race after Joey Logano lost control.
Almirola’s window net was lowered as safety workers cut the roof and roll cage off Almirola’s car to remove him. He was then pulled from the car, placed on a board and airlifted to the hospital.
“I’m just saying a lot of prayers for Aric right now,” Logano said Saturday night. “That’s the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone.”
Prayers indeed. It stinks that Almirola suffered a fractured vertebra. But everyone was spared a much bigger tragedy: At least the NASCAR Nation did not have to bury another fallen driver.
The fiery crash of Aric Almirola Sunday has reminded everyone that while NASCAR racing is much safer than ever before, it is inherently dangerous.