Just after 10 p.m., Monday, NASCAR announced that Ryan Newman‘s injuries were non-life threatening.
I as well as many others in the NASCAR world breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Newman’s wasn’t the worst I’ve seen covering auto racing; that belongs to Joe Graf Jr.‘s wreck in a pro late model race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Hell, I’ve seen cars get airborne multiple times in the races I’ve covered at Talladega Superspeedway.
Auto racing is a dangerous sport, and super speedway racing cranks it to 11. But do we really want to neuter it?
David Poole, former NASCAR writer for The Charlotte Observer, advocated bulldozing the banking at Daytona and Talladega for years. He famously said so in this post from 2009, after Carl Edwards’ wreck at Talladega.
“The real problem here isn’t the cars or the rules or even the drivers who do exactly what they’re expected to do even though what they’re doing is abject insanity,” Poole said.
“The real problem is the same as it has been for the 40 years (Talladega) has existed,” Poole said. “From the very first weekend of racing held here, when speeds were too fast for tires to withstand and anybody with any regard for what’s really safe would have called off the race, the problem is and always has been this race track.”
I think back to this quote from Brad Keselowski, after a NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega in 2016.
“Racing has always been that balance of daredevils and chess players,” Keselowski said. “Some weekends we’re chess players, some weekends we’re daredevils. (Daytona and Talladega have) always been the more daredevil style of track, which probably offsets some of the tracks that we go to where we’re the chess player.”
Like it or not, that danger and close quarter racing is part of the attraction of racing at Daytona and Talladega. Watching cars weave and bob their way through traffic at 200 mph, inches apart, is some of the most exciting racing to watch.
And with how homogenized the racing has become at most tracks, do we really want to kill one of the most entertaining and objectively most competitive styles of racing there is?
Yes, lessons can, and should, be taken from this wreck; strengthening the roll cage, for one. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of the style of racing that most synonymous with NASCAR.
That’s my view, for what it’s worth.