Fence dilemma a ‘difficult, delicate’ obstacle at tracks

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Industry officials and experts have been busy pondering over what can be done to improve the catch fencing at race tracks.

In a piece penned by Curt Cavin in today’s Indianapolis Star, SAFER Barrier developer Dean Sicking vowed that “this problem will be solved” but also said that time and money will be major obstacles to any initiative.

“…We haven’t figured out how to (test) fly a car,” Sicking said to Cavin. “We have concepts for flying a car, but to start running the test is real money, and we don’t have that.”

There’s also the matter of balancing safety and the fan experience. For example, going with taller fences may provide more safety, but those could also hamper sight lines for spectators and force facilities to remove chunks of seats.

Another point: Figuring out materials for fencing that can not only protect the fans but maintain their visibility of the action on the track.

It all makes for a huge problem, and finding the solution would appear to be anything but a straightforward process.

“It’s a very difficult, delicate, sensitive balance between spectator protection, driver protection, sight lines and cost,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of engineering Kevin Forbes said in Cavin’s piece.

“It’s very challenging, because we don’t want to break the law of unintended consequences in terms of safety and sight lines. Certainly, we don’t want to make this worse.”

Catch fencing has been a major topic in recent years following the fatal crash of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon in 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the outcry for improvements has escalated further since last Saturday’s final-lap accident in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway. At least 28 fans were injured after debris from the hellacious wreck went into the front-stretch grandstands.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).