Mar 5, 2007
This column has taken its shots at NASCAR for its safety record over the years. Now is the time to give credit where credit is due. This is prompted by the extremely violent crash that rookie racer David Reutimann experienced near the end of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif. As I watched the crash live I remarked how eerily similar it looked to the incident that was likely the most famous crash in NASCAR history -- the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt. Both involved cars swooping into the outer walls of the track at colossal speeds. The very good news is that Reutimann not only survived but also walked away under his own power.
Perhaps an element of luck was involved in Reutimann's survival. But certainly the NASCAR-mandated head-and-neck devices, which are designed to guard against the traumatic spinal cord injury that killed Earnhardt, have to receive at least partial credit for the Toyota driver's survival. According to Marty Smith, writing for the ESPN Web site, the Reutimann crash was one of the most violent ever recorded in NASCAR, and that includes a purported 160g crash survived by Jerry Nadeau at Richmond in 2003. For perspective, one g is the force of gravity.
NASCAR declines to disclose exact figures on the g forces of crashes that occur in its races, but it is hard to underestimate the violence of Reutimnann's collision with the outside wall. After the crash, there were some very scary moments when the driver, caught dramatically on the in-car camera, seemed unresponsive to questions radioed by his crew, his racecar in flames. But Reutimann explained later he had had the wind knocked out of him. Additionally his left foot was trapped in the car's pedal and was badly bruised, so he was walking with a limp. But that's a far cry from the tragedy that befell Earnhardt.
"We can't say it's the hardest [impact], period, because there are so many variables involved," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was quoted as saying. "But it is among the hardest impacts we've recorded."
So congratulations to NASCAR. This is the kind of story we love to report, and it is rewarding to think that perhaps the furor over the lack of safety in NASCAR instigated by this column and others in the racing community had something to do with this happy result.
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