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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Uneasy about upcoming NASCAR Talladega race after death of IndyCar's Dan Wheldon

2008 Aaron's 499 at Talladega SuperspeedwayImage via WikipediaI’ve been unable until now to write about the IndyCar crash Sunday at Las Vegas that took the life of Dan Wheldon. Suffice it to say that for anyone with an interest in racing, this was an unspeakable tragedy. The loss of this young race car driver was just too tragic, almost to bear. My heart is broken for his family, his friends, and everyone who knew and loved him.

While I have not been an IndyCar follower, I certainly had heard of Dan Wheldon. I knew a little about his career and had admired the milk mustache he wore after his first Indianapolis 500 win, which seemingly came out of nowhere. His name and face were familiar.

I do follow NASCAR, closely. While there are a few differences between the two series, there are more than a few similarities.

NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship race comes to Talladega Motor Speedway Sunday. I admit that after watching the crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon, and seeing the entire racing community mourn his loss, I feel a little uneasy about this weekend’s race. Talladega usually always has some kind of drama attached to it. This year, to add to the unknowns, NASCAR has instituted new changes—opening up the carburetor restrictor plate—which will add horsepower. This may actually translate into safer racing, and a better race, which is its aim.

At Talladega, there is always talk about the “big one,” which might be defined as a nail-biting multi-car wreck involving major damage to numerous race cars. Drivers generally emerge from the crumpled metal relatively unscathed. But it is impossible to predict what will happen at this unpredictable track.

I will never forget 2009 at Talladega, both in the spring and the fall.

Ryan Newman is the driver I root for each week. Both his spring and fall races at Talladega in 2009 left images in my mind that I can’t forget.

In the spring, Carl Edwards’ car went airborne, crashing into Newman’s car. Pieces of Edwards’ car then went flying into the catch fence, injuring fans sitting on the other side. Little was said about Newman, who finished third, as usual, despite Newman who was racing for the win only to get a race car in his windshield. He went on to finish third. http://youtu.be/c9FsYDEIZWk

Later that year, in the fall, Newman’s car was hit from behind. It went airborne, rolled several times, and landed on its hood. For a few gut-wrenching moments, there wasn’t a sound from Newman’s radio. He later explained that the antenna was knocked off the race car in the crash. When he was able to check in with Greg Newman, his father who was his spotter at the time. I think I forgot to breathe for a moment. Hearing him say he was OK brought a real sense of relief. http://youtu.be/S8BljwffrGc

Newman is only one driver that has been victimized by on-track incidents at Talladega. So many others have been involved in similar incidents there as well. There is even a video about them all. http://youtu.be/RCPRdKMgfSo

The danger in racing is palpable. I’m grateful that safety for drivers is a high concern in NASCAR. I hope some of that trickles down to IndyCar racing. And, I’ll be glad when Talladega concludes and hopeful that Newman has a good finish.


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