Too many tracks have concrete barriers and blunt areas as Devitt mentioned. Not enough tracks have proper fencing that protects the drivers and fans in the instance of a wild crash. Yet many of these tracks are a mom-and-pop type of business with very little cash flow to support drastic changes.
So how does sprint car racing bridge the gap between the drivers and race car owners focusing on safety without ignoring the dynamics a race track entails?
“Each track is in a unique position on its own,” Pittman said. “Every track is different. Even the safest tracks we go to have an improvement they can make. There are some tracks that need so much maybe we just don’t need to be going there. That list is very small. Our goal on the council is to not tell a track we’re not coming back.
“There are so many safety improvements that every track can look at and fix very inexpensively,” Pittman said. “Every track has an opening at some point. Every track has some exposed concrete. There are so many areas of a facility that if they just look around and can do tire barriers, water barriers, hay bales. Nobody is mandating to buy SAFER barriers and spend a fortune. Lining them with water barrels and hay bales is just as effective. Everybody is trying to pay to get rid of tires. Tires stacked and bolted together can make it safer.
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to make every track safe. It’s still going to be deemed as a dangerous sport. Our goal is that every track we go to is safer than the last time we were there to some degree. You start spreading that out over the course of several years and stay on owners to look at their facilities and fix issues and save up for big ones if there are those. Catch fences is where the money is going to get expensive.”
World Racing Group President Tom Deery emphasized that race tracks aren’t being held to an ultimatum, but they are being asked to focus on affordable safety measures.
“I think in general safety improvements to racing is a collaborative and collective effort of drivers, team owners, tracks, sanctioning bodies and everyone involved,” he said. “It’s not one person or group’s responsibility, but it’s everyone’s priority. We’re not mandating any changes yet to the tracks. Many of the tracks have taken that initiative themselves. We’ve offered suggestions and the tracks have been receptive to those.
“Our expectation is never to put the track in a bad position,” Deery added. “I know the track operators we deal with are responsible enough that they will do whatever they can to meet whatever the minimums are.”
Pittman says he doesn’t foresee teams leaving a track on race day because of safety concerns.
“I don’t think we were (in agreement) last year at all,” he said. “That’s the tricky part of making improvements to a track. Using our series, if we have 15 drivers, five things I find extremely dangerous may not bother other drivers and vice versa. We can never prepare for every situation that can happen in our sport, but for sure the drivers in our series have come together and are as close on the same page if some improvements aren’t made at some tracks we’re fine with skipping it. That’s not our goal at all.
“I do not ever see a circumstance of us not racing on the day of. It’s set up for us to know about ahead of time,” he noted. “We expect to see changes. This is a winnable argument right now. Now is the time.”