This is a replay of many other incidents in years past, and every time the same conversation and debate arrives with it. Restrictor plate racing has long been a topic that stirs up emotion of every kind, ranging from excitement to resentment, nervousness to fearful. Now there is a new chapter added to the ongoing book that is major accidents on a superspeedway. The best drivers in this sport have gone through the experience of being upside down, or airborne at one of these tracks, ranging from Petty to Earnhardt, Stewart to Busch, Gordon to Edwards, and now Austin Dillon gets added to the list.
Restrictor plate racing has evolved just like the sport itself, and yet all the while the same conversation begins immediately once the tires stop sliding and the metal finishes crumbling.
What more can be done?
It is always a topic when a major, multi-car incident becomes a reality at Daytona or Talladega. A 10, 15, 20-or-more car accident at 200 mph with each competitor is not the headline that should be remembered when the checkered flag waves, but it constantly is. And to think all these restrictor plate accidents were the product of another major incident, similar to what we saw Monday morning, but without restriction.
Bobby Allison’s frightening accident at Talladega in 1987 ripped apart the fencing like the lid on a can of soup, and by the Daytona 500 the following year, restrictor plates were put on to reduce speeds. What it did was make the draft the way of racing at the big superspeedways.
What happened that first race with the plates: Richard Petty goes tumbling down the frontstretch in his most famous accident outside of Darlington and the 1976 Daytona 500.
Even back then, the safety was the best available, and Petty would walk away from the incident.
That first race with restricted engines was 27 years ago, and in that time quite a bit has changed in the sport. The cars have gone through three generations of setups, looks, and rules. Along with that, safety has gone up in how they are constructed, from the materials used in machining, to the protection in keeping that driver secure, from the seatbelts to the seats themselves, and even the firesuit required to be worn by all members of the team.
But no one talks about how the safety equipment that NASCAR is required to use did their job. The topic of “what more can be done” always takes the top spot.
Sure, there’s always more than can be done, but the real topic is that what was used at the time did it’s job. The only injuries from the vicious incident were minor, and everyone was treated and released the same day. Dillon himself only had bruises on his forearm and tailbone, and yet was ready to get back behind the wheel of his car when teams go to Kentucky beginning Wednesday. It’s a testament to what NASCAR has already done, not to what more needs completed.
Safety is an ongoing learning experience for everyone involved. The fire from Richmond involving Brendan Gaughan’s team was something not experienced before, but the equipment that was used at the time protected the crew, despite a couple members going to the care center for burns.
NASCAR has since put in new rules, which came from learning from what happened.
The sport is never one to sit idle on safety, because it is always evolving and can always be improved upon. The fact of the matter is that every safety implementation that could be tested in one major incident was, and every single one of them did their job. There was no “what more can be done” when that accident was finished, but rather praise for what was being used doing exactly what it was built for. That is why Dillon was able to do a teleconference with media from the Richard Childress Racing headquarters instead of being in a hospital bed.
Let’s move beyond the criticism of asking what more could be done, and instead praise that everything done up till then worked.