NASCAR dodged a major bullet last Saturday in its Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Despite the multicar accident on the last lap that sent substantial debris into the grandstands, including Kyle Larson’s engine, the 28 fans injured have all survived. The two fans who were in critical condition were upgraded to stable.
After the accident, there’s been renewed discussion about the safety of catch fencing at race tracks.
IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay each chimed in on the situation. They’ve seen the effects of these type accidents first-hand, as they had to deal with the loss of Dan Wheldon at IndyCar’s 2011 season finale in Las Vegas when Wheldon’s car struck a post on the inside of the catch fencing.
“it’s time @Indycar @nascar other sanctioning bodies & promoters work on an alternative to catch fencing. There has to be a better solution,” Franchitti tweeted Saturday. “@indycar @nascar give the engineers and scientists a budget and they’ll find a fix. they did it with the safer barrier…”
Meanwhile, the defending IndyCar champion told USA Today Sports that, up-front costs aside, something can be done to improve this safety aspect.
“The fence acts as a cheese grater, and the car is the cheese,” Hunter-Reay said. “When it gets airborne, the fence tears it up into pieces. It’s an industry-wide problem, and one we can fix quickly. It would be revolutionary for the sport, and it’s at the forefront of what we’ve been talking about for five years.”
There were two instances in IndyCar where fans were killed from debris going over the fence in the late 1990s. A CART-sanctioned race at Michigan International Speedway in 1998 saw three deaths after a tire that came loose from Adrian Fernandez’s car went over the wall. In an Indy Racing League event the following year at Charlotte, three spectators were also killed when more debris went into the stands. Wheel tethers were later added to the cars.
In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.
Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.
Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.
The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.
“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”
Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.
SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.
When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.
SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.
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