Sunday, August 1, 2010

Driver Safety or Solar Panels? Pocono Incident Stirs Debate

Elliott Sadler made the list of worldwide trending topics on Twitter today.

Not because he won the Craftsman Series truck race at Pocono Saturday.  And not because he had a stellar finish in the Cup race.

But  because he suffered one of the hardest hits in recent NASCAR history.  A hit so hard, it knocked the engine right out of his car.

It all began with 36 laps to go.  That's when an impatient Jimmie Johnson tried to bump draft with the No. 2 Dodge of Kurt Busch.  Busch lost control, hit the outside wall and spun into the infield.

Meanwhile, back in the pack, the incident caused another, more serious crash.  While most drivers checked up to avoid the Busch incident, early reports indicate that A.J. Allmendinger did not. Instead, Allmendinger hit the No. 19 car of Sadler

As a result, Sadler's car slid down the track and hit the inside fence head-on.


To make matters worse, the fence Sadler hit doesn't qualify as a "SAFER barrier," a foam-enhanced wall which would have absorbed some of the impact. Pocono officials have said they will upgrade that portion of the infield guardrail to SAFER standards next year.

Unfortunately, Sadler's wreck happened a little too early for him to benefit from Pocono's planned improvements.

But what really set fans and pundits like Kyle Petty talking, is what Pocono did choose to spend their budget on this year.

Instead of getting the safety barriers up to snuff in time for this month's race, Pocono Raceway  opted to build a solar farm next to the track in order to make the venue more energy efficient. The cost of the solar farm? 15.5 million dollars.

Energy efficiency is all well and good.  But what about driver and fan safety?  What would the fallout be if Sadler had NOT been released from the infield care center?  Would folks give a rip about the track's reduced carbon footprint then?

It's not like this is the first time a serious incident, that could have had tragic results, has occurred at the tricky triangle.  As recently as June of this year, Kasey Kahne went airborne in the middle of a multi-car smashup on the backstretch.  There is no catch fence on the backstretch. Just trees:

And Cup drivers, including today's winner Greg Biffle, have recently expressed strong concern about Pocono safety.

"They could probably still do a little bit of work at Pocono," Biffle told Sports Illustrated on July 5. "They're going to kill somebody there."

And let's not forget the 2002 incident between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Park :

I don't begrudge Pocono their solar farm.  But such investments should be prioritized.  Driver and fan safety should come first. Period.

Luckily, Elliott Sadler will not be too worse for wear. He tweeted not long after his accident, "Just want to let everybody know I'm ok,prob gonna be sore but glad to walk away.Hardest hit I've ever had. Huge difference from a safer wall."

Good news indeed.

But to lessen the likelihood of such a wreck happening again, I propose that track officials who don't make necessary safety upgrades lose a race date. 

I don't care if a raceway boasts a wind farm, organic concessions, compost toilets and Al Gore as the Grand Marshal. 

If track owners fail to invest in obvious and necessary safety features (like SAFER barriers) then the race track should suffer the consequences.

Not the guy in the driver's seat.


  1. The excuse of not being enough time to fix some safety issues as a reason for not getting them done is not acceptable. The area where Elliot wrecked is a 2 day fix. So why else wasn't it fixed? MONEY. A 3 man crew, and a bulldozer, and it could have been fixed.

  2. Well said, very well said. Pocono's management made a very bad choice in their priorities. I was glad to see and hear that both Busch and Sadler were OK. We've seen too many drivers be "lucky" in the wreecks at Pocono. Two races are too many at Pocono.

  3. We should always priority the safety of the driver.Pocono did a very bad race this time.But I'm glad to read the tweet of MR. Elliot.Well I guess you should better luck next time Pocono.

  4. Driver's safety should be the first priority. Thank God that both were ok.I think such kind of dangerous races should be avoided.