KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Safety was the primary topic during the annual promoter’s meeting during the Knoxville Nationals Thursday afternoon at Dyer-Hudson Hall on the Marion County Fairgrounds.
With negative mainstream media reports regarding sprint car racing since the death of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler earlier this season in a sprint car crash at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway and the broken leg suffered by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart earlier this week, concerned promoters are working together to examine what can be done to improve safety for sprint car racers.
In addition to Leffler, National Sprint Car Hall of Famer Kramer Williamson died Aug. 4 from injuries suffered in an Aug. 3 crash at Lincoln Speedway in Pennsylvania and Josh Burton was killed at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway in a non-winged sprint car earlier this year.
Much of the focus of the meeting centered on finding a method to mandate that all competitors use containment seats. While approximately 80 percent of the cars competing in the Knoxville Nationals this week, utilize these seats, when you consider the entire sprint car universe, which includes winged, non-winged, 410, 360 and 305 sprint cars, it is likely that the percentage of containment seats to “traditional” style sprint car seats is closer to 50-50.
Some drivers simply accept the risks and refuse to use some of the safety equipment available to them.
“As a driver, you have to chalk it up as bad luck. It can happen to any one of us at any time, just as it can happen walking across Main St. We know the risks when we get in the car,” said 2012 Knoxville Nationals runner-up Brian Brown. “Even knowing the things that have happened, I do not run a HANS device and I do not run a full-containment seat. I have never been comfortable with those safety items on.
“I would rather be comfortable inside my car than to be uncomfortable and lose peripheral vision or something like that,” Brown continued. “It is sad that these things have happened, but each time we step in the car we know the risks and that there is a chance we may not come back. That is the path that we have chosen.”
World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series point leader Daryn Pittman, who drives for Kasey Kahne Racing, said every driver is responsible for his own safety systems.
“We should always be looking at what we can do to make the car safer,” said Pittman. “I remember when Tyler Wolf was lost (2012), there were some stats about him being the first driver sprint car racing had lost in a while and it kind of staggered me at the time how long it had been since we had had a fatality. I don’t know what’s been going on since then. I don’t know what has changed or if it is just circumstance.
“The only way as a driver that you can wrap your head around it is to put it as circumstances,” Pittman continued. “We are doing what we love and if it happens it happens. You focus on safety in your own cars and what you can do for safety. A driver is going to run harder when they know they are in the safest equipment that they can.”
Other items regarding safety discussed were torsion-bar stop locks, front axle tethers and chassis. Among those in the meeting were World Racing Group’s Brian Carter, Skagit Speedway’s Steve Beitler, Steve Sinclair of IRA, Larry Boos of Eldora Speedway and Knoxville Raceway’s John McCoy.