Dale Earnhardt's Death Propels Safety Changes in NASCAR

Patti RodischAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2009

With every lap that has run at Daytona International Speedway, the wounds of that awful late afternoon eight February's ago continue to heal.

It's hard to say if NASCAR would have changed its safety procedures and equipment had Dale Earnhardt not died.

But one thing is for sure—NASCAR was on the brink of major changes in the garage.

Changes that involved both with the drivers and the cars.

Either way, lessons were learned.

In terms of safety, Earnhardt's death really put NASCAR on the front lines in terms of safety.  Following his death  NASCAR required every driver to wear the HANS device, stabilizing the drivers neck if they were in a crash.

The next safety measure was the soft walls.  They are built to take away the energy of a crash into the outside retaining walls on the track.

Last year after Jeff Gordon's hard wreck at Las Vegas, owners and track operators began installing the soft walls on inside retaining walls.  This was just another way to protect the driver.

And finally, NASCAR instituted the Car of Tomorrow (COT) in 2007 part time. In 2008 the car was brought to be run full time.

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This car was designed primarily to keep the driver safe inside the car. The new car limited the chance of the dramatic rollovers.

Yes, NASCAR has done one thing right since Earnhardt's death—that is safety. They have taken there lumps over the years in regards to NASCAR  slow effort to adapt to the faster speeds that the cars were turning and the lagging safety procedures that NASCAR wouldn't commit to.

I would have hope that it wouldn't have taken the loss of any driver for NASCAR to really examine the safety of the drivers in the race cars. But it did.

While so many of his fans struggled to deal with his sudden loss. NASCAR's only option was to move forward.

This sudden loss opened up a new wave of drivers. These young new drivers were to become the face of NASCAR.

No more did we see drivers as aggressive as Earnhardt was on the track.

I heard the term once 'Gentlemen’s Racing' in terms of the newest style of driving on the track.

I am a Jeff Gordon fan, but the loss of a racing legend was like losing a good friend. I was in awe of his raw talent and his easy-going attitude, both inside the race car and outside.

Soon after his death many wondered how NASCAR would move forward with such a loss. NASCAR drivers and fans are all about family and this loss for some would either doom NASCAR or they would come out of it as a better organization.

For this fan, racing changed. It was no longer about the crazy crashes and watching these men who seemed to be made of steel walk away. With every hard crash I hold my breath looking for  the signal that the driver is okay.

It seems that every sport has a moment that defines them. Every sport has to adapt to changes both unplanned and planned. NASCAR has adapted and continues to.

As fans we will never be able to truly move forward. I still look for the no. 3 some weeks even though I know he is no longer here.

Racing is a simple sport. It always was and always will be.

We forget that they are just human. These are just men, tempting fate at speeds  fans can only imagine driving. 

Superman on wheels.