Stewart’s accident needs to create safety improvements


The hand-wringing over Tony Stewart racing sprint cars, and getting injured, is already underway.

Suddenly hundreds of armchair experts are saying something to the degree of, “Why is he racing a sprint car? Shouldn’t he be more concerned with his NASCAR commitments?”

Fact is, “Smoke” is the only person qualified to comment about what Smoke wants to do, and the only person who can give him the green light on what he chooses to do.

He exemplifies the term “racer” because he’s keen on running as many different types of cars, on so many tracks in so many cities. He’s his own boss; he races anytime, anywhere at his own risk and for his own enjoyment. He’s the closest modern day thing to his hero, A.J. Foyt, and just like Foyt, he runs the No. 14.

And if his sponsors had a problem with it, they wouldn’t be sponsoring him. Or allowing him to race in these events. Period. End of story.

The more pressing issue, and with dirt racing heavily in the national motorsports news in 2013, is what kind of safety upgrades tracks or sprint car series need to make to prevent this onslaught of serious injuries or worse this year.

Jason Leffler, one of Stewart’s friends and a high-profile name, was killed in June; an improved headrest may have saved his life.  Kramer Williamson died Sunday from injuries sustained in a crash in Pennsylvania, and Josh Burton died a couple weeks before Leffler from injuries sustained in a crash in Indiana. Per a USA Today report, there have been other deaths in Nevada (late May, two drivers) and California (two people killed after a car crashed on pit road, leaving a track).

Track themselves largely lack the SAFER barriers. Roll cages and seats can be improved. The HANS device or other head-and-neck support systems should be mandated if they aren’t already. There’s a lack of unity in the regulations across several series.

Dirt racing had its national breakout night a couple weeks ago with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ race at Eldora Speedway, a track Stewart owns, in Rossburg, Ohio. But now, the focus should shift to improving the standards at the tracks, cars and drivers, and not questioning who chooses to race there.

Follow @TonyDiZinno

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski