The Talladega Take-Off: Why Ryan Newman's Crash Is Good for NASCAR

Kara MartinSenior Analyst INovember 7, 2009

TALLADEGA, AL - NOVEMBER 01:  Safety workers look over the #39 U.S Army Chevrolet, driven by Ryan Newman, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AMP Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on November 1, 2009 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

Ryan Newman sat down with NASCAR’s vice president for competition Robin Pemberton and Sprint Cup director John Darby earlier this week to discuss his wild Talladega ride.

Newman’s docket was filled with just two items. The dynamics behind the crash that sent his car airborne and the length of time that it took rescue personnel to extricate him from the carnage.

Although NASCAR officials would not disclose the details of the meeting, other than to say it was positive, Newman remains an outspoken advocate for safety and the critical need to stop the cars from taking flight during accidents.

"From an aerodynamic standpoint, ultimately, our biggest thing is to keep the race cars on the ground," Newman said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

"Crashes have always been a part of racing. There are fans that like that. Sometimes that adds to extra excitement, don't get me wrong. When we can bounce off each other, get the car fixed, go back out and try to win a race, I understand that part of it.

"Keeping the race cars on the ground is how we keep the drivers, and especially the fans, safe. We have crashes all year at every track, but only at Talladega do the cars leave the ground.''

Newman, the only full-time Sprint Cup driver to possess a four-year college degree, could just be the voice that NASCAR needs to listen to.

With a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, Newman not only harbors a need for speed, but he also understands the mechanics, kinematics, thermodynamics, and energy behind it.

Hey NASCAR, sounds like Newman might actually know what he is talking about here; let’s use that knowledge!

During Wednesday’s meeting, NASCAR officials affirmed they have already begun testing some things to help keep the cars from getting airborne, but is it enough to satisfy Newman and put the other driver’s minds at ease?

"From an engineering standpoint, whatever we can do speed-wise and aerodynamically to keep the cars on the ground is what we need to focus on," said Newman.

"There has been testing done. I learned some of that stuff on Wednesday morning talking to Mr. Darby and Mr. Pemberton, that they have tested.

"But I don't know that they have tested everything, I don't know if you can test everything. But obviously more testing needs to be done in order to make it safer for everybody."

"The faster you go, the more likely you are to take lift. An airplane takes off at 160 miles an hour. We're going 40 miles an hour above that at times. There's plenty of potential for a car to take lift, whether it's going forwards, backwards, or sideways.''

The wreck at Talladega was not Newman’s first, but it was in his words, it was “the worst hit I’ve ever had.”

For years, Newman has been a strong advocate for safety modifications by NASCAR.

After a crash during practice at Watkins Glen in 2003, where he sat in his vehicle for nearly two minutes before rescue crews even arrived, a furious Newman pushed for NASCAR to provide the traveling safety/rescue teams that other major series have been employing for years.

He stated, "I don't know why we don't have a traveling safety crew." "Maybe it's a financial issue, which should never be an excuse when it comes to safety, but my point is, it's all about communication. If we could have a safety team in place every week, it would make a difference."

"If we could communicate with those people week in and week out, they'd know where everybody's cut-off switch was. Some of these people don't know things that they ought to. Some of them are volunteers. Some of them get paid. For some of them, it may be the first time they've ever seen a race car.

"It might be their free pass to the race track to be part of the safety crew. You never know. If we can create a little relationship with the team, I think it would be great for the sport and the drivers."

Perhaps a permanent safety crew, one who trains strictly on the issues faced on a race track with stock cars and their driver’s needs would have made the lengthy extrication process smoother for everyone involved, including the fans.

We all watched anxiously as it took rescue workers nearly 15 minutes to get Newman out of the car.

Radio communication was lost after the car came to rest on its roof, crippling the antennae. It wasn’t until the car was gingerly turned right-side up that Newman could radio his crew that he was all right.

The roof and roll cage were so badly crushed, that in order to get Newman out safely, the roof of the car had to be cut off and removed.

"I want to make a point that I wasn't dissatisfied with the way I was taken out of the car," Newman said. "I just feel there were things that potentially could be done to make it easier for the next guy. That's my responsibility, because the next guy might be me again. You never know."

"I know (the rescue process has) been an evolution, but the evolution is behind. I'm not mad at them, but I want it to be known from a driver's standpoint what can be done to make it better.”

While we will never see the end of crashes on the track, Newman hopes the knowledge shared between he and NASCAR will help implement safer equipment and expedite the process of extricating drivers safely and efficiently post-crash.

A mind such as Newman's is a terrible thing to waste!