Monday, May 15, 2017

COMMENTARY: Almirola's Crash Reminds That Stock Car Racing Will Never Be Safe

In an era of HANS devices, containment seats, impact-absorbing form and computer-generated chassis technology, it is tempting to believe that people don’t get hurt in race cars anymore.

But Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, Aric Almirola reminded us once again that stock car racing remains a dangerous game.

Almirola, driver of the #43 Smithfield Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, was involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 199 of Saturday night's race, when a broken brake rotor on Joey Logano's car triggered a violent, fiery crash that demolished his car, along with those of Almirola and Danica Patrick. Almirola plowed into Logano's car as it skidded along the outside wall, hard enough to send the rear of Almirola's Ford high into the air.
The RPM driver slid to a stop against the SAFER barrier at the exit of Turn Two, and immediately dropped the window net. He failed to exit the vehicle, however, and safety workers were forced to remove his car’s roof to extricate him safely.

While conscious and alert, Almirola was placed in a cervical collar and removed on a backboard, grimacing in pain. He was transported by ambulance to the speedway’s Infield Care Center, before being airlifted to University of Kansas Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with a fractured T5 vertebra.
He was held overnight for further observation, before returning to his home in North Carolina the following day.
“I’m saying a lot of prayers for Aric right now,” said a visibly shaken Logano afterward. “A lot of us took a hard hit. Something broke on my car. I don't know what it was. I tried to back it off, but you're going 215 (mph) and it's hard to check up. The car just took a big step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica.
“You can see the right front (tire) popped,” he said. “I just hope everyone is OK. I hope Aric is all right. That's the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It's unfortunate for everyone.”

Patrick was animated and angry after bailing out of her flaming Ford on the track apron, and confronted Logano on their way to the ambulance.

"I told him, `I'm not sure if it was you, but I'm pretty sure it was you,'" she said. "He said it was a failure of some sort, which didn't make me feel better in that moment. I hope Aric is OK. He's definitely feeling the worst of everybody.''

Winner Martin Truex, Jr. also spoke of Almirola in Victory Lane, saying, "He and his wife (are) great people. Just such a nice family and such a nice guy. I was really scared when I saw that and worried for him, obviously. I hope he's doing good."

Runner-up Brad Keselowski spoke for many after the race, saying, "It's a dangerous sport. It always has been and it always will be.

“Sometimes, we take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away. Then you see one where someone doesn't, and it puts things back into perspective about just how dangerous it can be."

It has been a long time since NASCAR fans watched in stunned silence as the roof of a race car is peeled back to enable the extrication of its injured driver.

It’s been a long time since we averted our eyes from the action on the track to look skyward as a Life Flight helicopter lifts off from the infield, saying a silent prayer for the injured driver on board.

It’s been a long time since we were reminded that the laws of physics still apply in motorsports; that despite all the carbon fiber and impact absorbing foam, race car drivers remain fragile human beings, susceptible to bruises, burns, broken bones… and worse.

Aric Almirola will be sidelined for a time, giving his broken back sufficient to heal. Someone else will strap into his #43 Smithfield Ford this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, attempting to earn the team a spot in the sport’s annual All Star Race. NASCAR will examine the remains of his battered, beaten race car, hoping to learn how to prevent the type of injury he suffered Saturday from ever happening again.

And in a few days, we will once again begin the process of deceiving ourselves into believing that stock car racing is no longer a violent game.

Until next time.


  1. Jared Stearns10:59 AM

    Aric's injury spotlights a remaining weak point in the (imperfect but very effective)driver safety cage. There is five feet of car in front of the drive, to absorb and dissipate impact, four behind, a foot & a half to the left, and a couple of feet to the right. Even overhead, there is a foot of space, structure and sheetmetal between the driver and any potential threat. However beneath, there is a scant few inches between the driver's butt and solid concrete or asphalt. If a car separates significantly from Terra Firma, as Aric Almirola did Saturday night, the driver is arguably better off landing on the roof than back on the wheels. I cannot imagine a solution short of sitting atop a milk-crate height seat structure, but there are a lot of men and women a lot smarter than me (and I consider myself pretty smart) working for Nascar, I hope they take a look at this.

    1. Anonymous1:02 PM

      Excellent observation.

    2. The injury resembles Tony Stewart's back injury before the 2016 Cup season when he was driving a sand-rail car in California. The hop-up in the air then slamming down on the ground. Maybe the seat (or beneath) can be cushioned to absorb weird hits like this. Not sure either, but NASCAR R&D is sharp.

  2. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Danica pissed and moaned about her woes before she even thought to mention Aric. Sort of shows how self centered she is. You can look at many other drivers and their bad luck, but she always seems to think it is "always" her. Actually, I think there are probably some other woman in the lower ranks that can drive better than her, but unfortunately they don't have the following of the little girls who NASCAR THINKS will grow up to be fans. Being from Tampa area, have always followed Aric's career and have been impressed with his humble ways and nice guy persona going back to when he drove for JR. Hoping that he fully recovers and returns to racing soon.

    1. Ever hit something head-on at 210 mph? Ever been on fire before? If not, you might not be totally qualified to judge.

    2. True that, Dave. True that.

    3. Anonymous2:02 AM

      She's the one behind the wheel, you're the one behind the remote. I think if in that exact second I was run over I too would be pretty angry until someone told me what happened. But then again, it's probably not your fault your perception is dimmed.

  3. Anonymous9:01 PM

    It will be very interesting to see what NASCAR's findings reveal in regards to how the car performed in this crash. My guess is not much. Not to belittle Aric's injury in any way, shape or form but if a fractured vertebrae is 'all' that resulted from such a violent impact then congratulations to all involved in engineering the safety aspect of these cars.

  4. I was at the race & had tears in my eyes because I was so worried for Aric. This is my favorite sport & I don't want to see anyone get hurt especially when they're entertaining us! I'm so grateful Aric is walking around & that Joey & Danica were ok. Great calling of the race Godfather! I miss you on the West Coast so I had to travel to hear you live!!

  5. Anonymous9:19 AM

    Good point Dave,
    As much safety as what's in these cars there is still a risk of injury. At first I thought it was intentional, but the replay shows the brake issue caused it. I'm actually surprised Joey didn't get hurt or even worse. The 43 car hit Joey right in the front foot box area, That was the area where you'd always see drivers getting broken legs. That is the true testament to Nascar's new safety improvements, many family members have them to thank for it.

    Charles Utts

  6. Indeed. People who note NASCAR has not had any fatalities since 2001 are correct, but incomplete, given the numerous close calls since then - Sterling Marlin's near-disastrous neck injury late in 2002, Jerry Nadeau's near-fatal Richmond crash, serious injuries to Michael Annett (ironically in a Richard Petty car) and Eric McClure, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch's serious injuries the previous five seasons, and the concussion that is ending Dale Junior's career.

    I've never been a fan of these 200-MPH-plus speeds, either overall speeds (Daytona had crept back over 200 in recent years as has Michigan) or trap speeds - Kansas' trap speeds were reported at 215 - both because they're overpowering the safety equipment and because they've taken away passing.