NASCAR: Will Death Ever Be an Acceptable Price for Doing Business?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IJuly 30, 2010

NASCAR fans lost a champion, Lesa France Kennedy lost a husband, Bobby and Judy Allison lost a son, and Rick Hendrick lost his family.

It wasn’t the headlines about another plane crash involving someone from NASCAR that was on everyone’s mind this past week. It was the question no one wanted to ask, but everyone wanted answered: “Did Jack Roush die in the plane crash?”

While I was writing this breaking news story a few days ago, Twitter was scrolling up one side of my computer screen like credits after the movie, and, as fast as I could type, words were being assembled down the other side like a psychotic game of Tetris.

Information and pictures were coming in from a source at the scene and other sources as far away as California.

When I finally left clicked the publish button, I breathed a sigh of relief and closed my eyes briefly.

During the next several moments it was hard not to remember, even reflect, on those men and women in the NASCAR community who had lost their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, in some type of aircraft accident.

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Time management in NASCAR has become an industry in itself. Sponsor obligations alone take up most of a driver and owners time. Gone are the days of traveling across the country by bus or car.

Most of the mega teams, and even a few of the drivers, have private jets and or helicopters.

Twenty years ago, Rusty Wallace was one of the first known race car drivers to have an aviation sponsor, hold a commercial pilots license, and use his own private helicopter as a common mode of transportation to and from races or personal appearances.

Today’s drivers, owners, and high level team members log more hours in the air than on the asphalt.

Race tracks have also adapted their venues to this mode of transportation.

Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway both have specific areas set aside large enough to accommodate as many as 10 helicopters.

Once the race at Bristol Motor Speedway has finished, a variety of team and private helicopters will land and depart for the next two or three hours, ferrying personnel out of the facility to the nearest airport.

Davey Allison was flying a helicopter. Alan Kulwicki was traveling in a corporate jet. Both men were utilizing the advantages of air travel when tragedy struck.

I was brought back to reality when a lone instant message popped up on my computer. The simple words brought a chill to my spine—“Is he dead?”

In this instance, Jack Roush was flying his own plane for recreation purposes, and for the second time, escaped death. Being at the top of NASCAR's elite allows Roush, Hendrick, and drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards, to participate in ultra expensive hobbies like flying.

NASCAR has gone to great lengths to protect the men and women who make their living on the asphalt. That protection does not extend into the air. 

With a growing number of teams and drivers choosing air travel as their primary mode of transportation, the risk involved has become acceptable. What's unacceptable is the tragic results of that risk. 

Motorsports is big business and air travel has certainly added a considerable amount to the business.

It has also taken a considerable amount away. 

Photo Credit: David L. Yeazell