Monday, February 16, 2004

Daytona Wrapup

As expected, the "Big One" happened. A crash on lap 72 damaged 12 cars (about 1/3 of the remaining field), including a rather spectacular tumble by Michael Waltrip. No one was seriously injured, and the race went on to the unsurprising conclusin that Waltrip's teammate Dale Earnhart Jr won the race. His team, DEI, has been dominant on large tracks for the past few years.

Looking at the photograph linked to above, you might notice that the dominant feature of the picture is not the accident, but the airplane. The race was started by none other than George Bush himself. He even managed with a straight face to claim that this was the people's business, rather than a campaign stop to capture the NASCAR Dad vote, so taxpayers funded his little jaunt down to Florida. (Un?)fortunately, a TiVo miscalculation meant that I missed the Bush portions of the event, and only turned on the race about a quarter of the way in &mdash someone had scheduled the machine to record Star Wars instead of the race. Thus I was spared the spectacle of the motorcade around the track and other key elements of the pre-race show.

One other development may come out of the Waltrip accident. After the tumble, safety crews spent about ten minutes trying to cut the car away from the driver before flipping it back on its wheels. At that point, he climbed out, waved to the crowd, and walked over to the waiting ambulance for a mandatory post-crash checkup. Afterwards, he claimed that he spent the entire 10 minutes telling the safety crew to flip the car over so he could get out, but they wouldn't listen to him and kept trying to cut through the safety cage. Last year some controversy started because NASCAR doesn't have a dedicated race safety crew, or even a single Chief Medical Officer. Instead they use local teams at each venue. These guys are experts at cleaning up after highway accidents and similar events, but don't know much about race cars since they only see them twice a year, at most. Waltrip is an outspoken guy. If he keeps complaining about this long enough, NASCAR may have to relent (as they have on a number of other issues) and finally hire a dedicated safety team to at least run the emergency operation at each track. Most other major racing series have such a group, and NASCAR is way behind the curve on this one.