Thanks to the proactive and reactive measures to unthinkable occurrences and potential hazards in the last half a century by race tracks and the governing bodies that sanction them, many — even most — imminent dangers that were just a part of the sport at one time have been eliminated from the equation for drag racers, proving a safer racing environment than ever before. But not every track is created equal, and until the day comes that every facility falls under sanctioning rule with specific guidelines-or-else mandates, not every track is going to provide an equally safe environment to the next. And that can be a problem with life-changing consequences.
In June, 56-year old Richard Moore of Ohio tragically had his life cut short in a racing accident when his beloved stick-shift Dodge Dart became entangled with the steel guardrail at an estimated 150 mph in the shutdown area at one of his local quarter-mile tracks. Mr. Moore was regarded as one of the most well-respected and well-liked racers in the area, and by all accounts was as conscientious about safety as any racer out there, but the incident that claimed his life was one that a racer simply couldn’t prepare for or wear enough safety equipment to survive.
Mr. Moore’s accident was a perfect-storm, if you will, of events combining location, angle, speed, and countless other variables fit for an engineer’s calculations. But it was in no way an unthinkable occurrence, but rather the most recent example of the destruction that steel I-beams and railings present to the racer.
Clearly, the steel guardrail’s time has come. Actually, their time came about the very moment they began using them.
Those who regularly browse drag racing videos on the internet have no doubt seen the infamous 2005 Orlando World Street Nationals crash of Outlaw 10.5 racer Eddie Timal, in which the steel Armco barrier (which has since been replaced with solid concrete walls) buckled under the impact of his classic GTO, launching the car clear outside of the track in one of the more devastating crashes anyone has ever seen. Such a circumstance posed a dangerous situation not just for Timal, but also put the spectators mere feet from harms way. Like Moore’s, Timal’s crash was anything but an isolated, one-time incident.
Clearly, the steel guardrail’s time has come.
Actually, their time came about the very moment they began using them. If something is destructive on the highway — we’ve all witnessed scenes of horrible accidents with cars and tractor trailers coming into contact with guardrails — then they certainly aren’t fit for a racing environment. To be fair, these steel structures have, throughout history, safely performed the job they were designed to do far more than they’ve left destruction in their path, but even one life lost against millions of safe runs is not a acceptable ratio to us and certainly not to the families of those lost.
The point of this writing isn’t to throw any particular track under the bus, and we highly that any track owner or operator is intentionally negligent on the topic. One must consider their plight. For a struggling facility that’s scraping the bottom of the piggy bank just to keep the light bill paid (and there are many these days), the cost to construct new concrete barriers wherever they don’t currently have them is an unthinkable outlay of cash. It’s the difference between staying afloat and just putting a lock on the gate.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s dangerous. If you can’t afford a helmet, the track isn’t going to bend and let you run without. It’s up to the track to provide an environment that eliminates every conceivable hazard within financial and logical reason. I’m not talking sci-fi safety features here, but concrete guardrails have become the standard at any modern facility and they’ve become standard for a reason.
To be fair, these steel structures have, throughout history, safely performed the job they were designed to do far more than they’ve left destruction in their path, but even one life lost against millions of safe runs is not a acceptable ratio to us and certainly not to the families of those lost.
But just as intended, the footage immediately began discussions on the internet about how chassis builders might better design a chassis to combat such unexpected events to save lives in the future. His accident also brought about shone light on the dangers of racing on tracks that still contain such structures, and many respondents indicated that they would no longer race at tracks that weren’t concrete for the full length of the racing surface.
And that’s exactly what needs to happen.
Richard Moore and others who have succumbed to incidents just like this lost their lives doing what they loved to do, and if we can honor these individuals in any way, it’s to ensure that their passing was not in vain. That changes will be made and that racers will take a stand for their own safety to ensure that no one else suffers the same fate again.