It was a sad time for NASCAR. Three of NASCAR's young drivers were killed in accidents. Tony Roper, 4th generation driver, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, Jr. all perished in the year 2000.
Irwin and Petty's accidents were cause by their throttles getting stuck and slamming into the outside wall at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Both died of head trauma. A device that was designed in the 1980's known as the HANS—Head And Neck Support—device would have benefited their chances of survival greatly.
In fact, J.D. McDuffie (1991), Grant Adcox (1989), Terry Schoonover (1984), Neil Bonnett (1994), John Nemechek (1999), Clifford Allison (1993) and Blaize Alexander (an ARCA driver who also died in 2000) all died of the same injuries as Petty, Roper and Irwin.
But it wasn't until the year 2001 after the death of NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, that NASCAR mandated each driver to wear the HANS or Hutchins device.
Also, the PEDS, a structure very similar to the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier was instituted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1998 to keep drivers safe.
Both the HANS device, and SAFER barriers are now mandatory in NASCAR. In fact, NASCAR won't even race at a track without SAFER barriers. Many people believe that NASCAR's ignorance to both devices lead to the injuries and deaths of some of these drivers.
Today, at Watkins Glen, NASCAR showed the same ignorance that they've longed to get away from 11 years ago.
With two laps to go in the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International Raceway, car #47, Bobby Labonte's car had blown its engine. Unlike they had done when Denny Hamlin and Jason Leffler's cars had lost their engines and leaked oil out onto the racetrack, NASCAR decided not to throw the caution, with Bobby Labonte's car billowing smoke out of the rear end.
But by the time NASCAR had figured out that Labonte had blown up, race leader Kyle Busch had taken the white flag. Therefore, a caution would end the race.
Instead, NASCAR ignored Labonte's blown engine and let the finish happen. As soon as Busch's car hit the oil, he started slipping all over the place, and so did the two cars behind him. Busch eventually got spun out by Brad Keselowski; Kyle's driver side door was facing Dale Earnhardt, Jr's. If "Junior" wasn't so aware, he could have t-boned Busch.
Just a few seconds later, Jeff Gordon's car also had trouble staying straight in the oil and spun off of the final turn.
Two cars spun in the oil. The track was too slick for the drivers; the tires were hot and that grease just stuck to the tires.
As the race ended and Marcos Ambrose took the checkered flag, ESPN interviewed Dave Rogers, Kyle Busch's crew chief. Rogers, who was on the pit box facing only one straightaway of the track, had figured out that the oil had come from Labonte's car.
That car was the last one on the lead lap. The first car to hit the oil was the leader, Kyle Busch.
Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose said how exciting the finish was. And they were right, it was. But I go back to a time when Tony Stewart was asked if NASCAR was "too safe."
"Well, I could say that the media center is getting boring in here and it's too safe cause you guys got four legs on your chairs. So we can start sawing legs off. What do you think about that?... I don't think that fans that watch NASCAR wanna watch their drivers get hurt..." Stewart said.
NASCAR sawed the legs off today. To keep drivers on a slick racetrack and not take the proper precautions to keep their drivers safe is a lapse in judgement on NASCAR's part.
I surely don't want to see my favorite driver get hurt, and he was the one leaking fluid. And I certainly don't want to see Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon get hurt either. I was not an Earnhardt fan, but when he died, I was destroyed.
I never want to have that feeling again watching something I love. I never want to see people die on the count of entertainment of others. Racing is a dangerous sport as it is, so to make it more dangerous just so the finish is entertaining is wrong.
Again, sawing off the legs of the media center's chairs would be fun to watch until someone hit their head and got hurt.
I look at driving on an oil-filled racetrack as exactly the same thing.
Yes, the finish was exciting; however, I never want NASCAR to think that putting drivers in danger is what fans want.
Ask the IRL fans how they felt last year when Dan Wheldon died. No one wants that feeling ever. NASCAR needs to do their best to avoid situations like that.
Today they failed to do that.