Honoring a LEGEND …..

February 18, 2011 |

Dale Earnhardt didn’t die in vain.  His death spurred a revolutionary era in NASCAR’S embracing of safety and technology.

The HANS device, which prevents the head from “snapping forward” was mandated, just weeks after Earnhardt’s fatal crash.  It was followed by security improvements to the driver’s seat and cockpit area.

Still, there is no way of making auto racing a safe sport …..

To that end, I have recently heard people leveling criticism at NASCAR, for purposely slowing cars down, at Daytona. 

“I thought the idea was to go fast,” is what we usually hear.

Trust me, if you hear such a statement, its likely imparting from the lips of someone who doesn’t have a clue about the intersection of stocks cars and “airborne” speed.  In short, the span between 200 mph and 210 mph, can be the difference between a racecar ending up in the wall or over the fence, and ending the lives of a couple hundred people.

So, is SPEED always the most important thing?  No, it’s not.

The second most important goal during any racing event is to minimize the risk of danger for competitors, while still achieving a white-knuckled adventure that lives on the brink of uncertainty.

However, the most important task is ensuring that the health of the people who pay admission is not compromised.  The fans are absolutely the most important consideration.

On numerous instances, a stock car’s 3400 pound carcass has become entangled in the catch fences at Daytona and Talladega.  But, the fences have always held the machines, while guaranteeing the safety of fans.

On a few distinct occasions, cars have nearly traveled up and over the fences.  The only factor keeping the cars inside the confines of the track is “speed at time of lift off.”  And, given the dense shape of a stock car, there is no way of guaranteeing they’ll never go airborne.

As for Dale Earnhardt and his relationship to this day, there really is nothing more to say about the tragic events of February 18, 2001 …..

There comes a time when people must let go of such pain, while looking ahead to the future.

His son is tired of talking about it.  And, to a point, most of us who devoutly follow and cover the sport are growing weary of the topic and its spawned conversations.

But, on this tenth anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death, I think it’s fittingly appropriate to cite his impact on today’s version of NASCAR and its community.

I have no doubt that careers and more importantly, lives of competitors have been saved due to the safety advances realized over the last decade.  As I’ve preached, auto racing is dangerous and there is no way of overcoming such a reality.

Another NASCAR driver is bound to die on a racetrack during the course of the next ten years.  That’s the game, for better or worse.

But, such horrific incidents will be greatly minimized, because of a single crash in the 43rd edition of the Daytona 500.

The sport is safer, because of Dale Earnhardt.

And, this is the greatest tribute to pay such a legend.