When it comes to NASCAR, we usually don’t think of minimal injuries. Only life-ending crashes. After all, drivers are almost entirely plastered to their seats with little room to move, meaning that any major injury would result from wherever the car either crumbles onto a driver or, more likely, when the driver’s head hits the steering wheel during a head-on collision. Dale Earnhardt may not have been everyone’s favorite race car driver, but he was a man’s man with incomparible gravitas before dying in Daytona when he hit the wall at an estimated speed of 155 to 160 mph. Today marks the 10-year anniversay of his death and the final weekday before the 2011 Daytona 500 returns on Sunday.
The lessons learned from that February accident in 2001 are pretty simple. If we’re going to call NASCAR a sport people should enjoy watching without thinking of it as a game where people die in the process, then it’s essential that the cars be safer and the drivers be more protected. Fortunately, this is exactly what the Earnhardt accident has fixed. The cars have been redesigned each year since 2002, a new HANS device has become mandatory for each car (which secures the head and neck from sudden collision), softer walls, and dozens of innovative creations have allowed drivers to race without as much fear that an unexpected pull to the wall will bring an end to their lives.
No, the Brace Shop doesn’t design cars or the sell the HANS device (not yet at least), but we want to encourage our readers to enjoy a new season of NASCAR as it begins this sunday. As you recall the life and death of Dale Earnhardt, listen for the engines of a new generation of drivers who would only make him proud if he were around today.