Those of us who have spent a lifetime at race tracks can attest that we’ve come a long way when it comes to safety — whether we’re talking about the Indy 500, where they used to stand on the inside of the frontstretch while 33 cars powered by, or your local short track.
When I was a kid, most tracks didn’t even have safety crews — the “safety crew” was literally everyone in the pits running to the accident to help out. That fact proves two things. 1) How far we’ve come, and 2) I may be starting to get older.
It wasn’t all that long ago that there were major racing series events where the safety crew was the fire department that was “just down the street.” Thankfully, there aren’t tracks and series still of that mindset; at least not that I’m aware of.
So, we’ve come a long way, and most promoters and sanctioning bodies I speak with are always looking for ways to further improve. Perhaps no incident shined a greater light on the discussion of safety crews than Doug Wolfgang’s fiery crash during a World of Outlaws event on the pavement at Lakeside Speedway in 1992.
For the traveling racer, it’s nearly impossible to evaluate the proficiency of the crews at the numerous tracks at which they race, even when trained professionals — for example, local firemen — make up the response team.
Perhaps the greatest key is education. Even those professionals who deal with street accidents, aren’t trained about things like quick-release steering wheels, various full containment seats, safety harnesses, and head and neck restraints.
Street cars run on gasoline, not methanol. I’ve personally witnessed a safety crew, unaware that methanol flames are often not visible, spectate as a driver climbed out of a sprint car on fire. Thankfully, in the incident I’m referring to, Eric Malies of Work ‘N Woody was on the scene and sprayed the driver down, extinguishing the flames while the track’s safety crew watched from the other side of the racing surface.
I’ve watched as a safety crew member flipped the belts of a stock car driver who was hanging upside down, causing the already-dazed, and possibly injured, driver to literally fall on his head inside the car. And, I’ve witnessed some very questionable responses and extractions of drivers whose injuries may have included broken vertebrae, where mistakes by a safety crew can result in paralysis, or worse.
So, I was excited to see that the World of Outlaws and DIRTcar have partnered with ESI Equipment Inc. and the International Council of Motorsports Sciences to make race track and safety officials aware of the SFI-accredited Short Track Incident Response Program. They are working to educate as many track safety workers and officials as possible, and it’s a very commendable effort.
The program covers how to properly extricate a driver from different types of race vehicles. If the car is upside down, how to properly roll the vehicle back over in a way that the driver doesn’t sustain further injuries.
The program covers how to put out various types of fire. If sprint cars and stock cars are both on the card, they may be using different types of fuel.
The course has sprint car, late model and big block modified chassis on site (and they’re always looking for more used chassis – wrecked, or not – to be donated for use in the program).
Those chassis allow participants to see what it’s like to be the driver sitting in that car, and for practice extracting a patient from each type of vehicle. There’s even training on how and where to cut the chassis, if necessary, to extract an injured driver.
Referring to the various head and neck restraints, DIRTcar Safety Director Tyler Bachman pointed out, “If you haven’t raced, you probably don’t know how to take that off. If you look at a Simpson Hybrid Pro, which a lot of our guys have, you might not know you have to pull the strings (to get it off). You could look at it for 20 minutes and not realize how to get it off. Just stuff like that. It’s really a big awareness.”
Every official with the World of Outlaws’ sprint car series, late model series, the Super DIRTcar Series, and DIRTcar took the course last year, and are SFI-certified.
Even a veteran like World of Outlaws Series Director Carlton Reimers was impressed with how much he learned during the course.
According to Reimers, it “really opened my eyes to how intricate extricating a driver can be. I mean, who would have thought that a Sawzall with a special tipped blade was faster at cutting through a frame than the Jaws of Life. That’s only in certain situations, of course, but I would have never known. I hope we do more of this training in the future.”
The goal of the program is to make sure that every driver gets the same accident response at a dirt track that a Formula 1 driver receives.
A class is being scheduled during the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte in November, and Bachman is hoping to see the expansion of several classes in each region of the country.
The course is available for track owners, local rescue crews, and any other motorsports-affiliated company.
To request a Short Track Incident Response Program at your facility, or attend an already scheduled class, contact ESI Race Track Safety Services at 1 (800) 574-8228 or email email@example.com.
In Canada, call (905) 914-0261 or (514) 434-6911, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.