Since 2001, each February has passed with a solemn respect to a great legend of NASCAR. On February 18, 2001, during the final lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was caught up in a multi-car crash that almost instantly took his life. In the aftermath of the Earnhardt tragedy, graphic descriptions were given to explain the kind of injuries that were sustained, particularly in the head. At the time, Bill Simpson, the man who had manufactured seat belts for NASCAR vehicles, resigned from his position after receiving death threats and bullets in his house. The controversy over the track, the car, and the drivers has now, eleven years later, taken a turn for the positive.
Every year, NASCAR officials look for new ways to implement safety precautions for the high risk of head injuries. Of course, if a driver is traveling more than 180 miles an hour, there’s never a guarantee of safety, but no one wants to be the recipient of hatred if their products or their cars fail to do their jobs. That goes for crash analysis as well.
Right now, each and every race car is embedded with a crash data recorder, where analysts can research the causes of each accident and continue working to improve the way these vehicles respond to an impact. Perhaps most encouraging is that researchers and analysts are focusing most of their interest on ways to protect the head first. Even drivers who have a minor accident are now required to visit a NASCAR clinic to check for signs of a concussion. If the Earnhardt tragedy taught us anything, it’s that even in the most dangerous sport on the planet, there are always ways to minimize the potential of injuries.
NASCAR returns on Sunday, February 26, with the 54th Annual Daytona 500.
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