NASCAR’s first newspaper beat writer named Squier-Hall Award winner

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Tom Higgins, a Charlotte Observer reporter that is credited as the first newspaper beat writer to cover the entire NASCAR schedule, has been named the recipient of the 2015 Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

Higgins, who retired in 1997, will be honored during the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Jan. 30 and be part of an exhibit in the Hall of Fame.

He was part of a group of eight nominees that were up for the Squier-Hall Award, which is named for NASCAR broadcasting legends Ken Squier and Barney Hall.

While beginning his career in 1957 with the Canton (N.C.) Enterprise, Higgins started covering motorsports as a writer for the Asheville (N.C.) Times. In 1964, he moved to the Observer to cover the outdoors, but soon started to follow the stock car circuit as well.

“Tom Higgins helped establish what it means to be a NASCAR beat reporter,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France in a statement. “For more than five decades, his words have told the story of NASCAR, and the people and emotions that define the sport.

“He has been much more than a reporter to those in the NASCAR industry – serving as friend and confidant to competitors, administrators and his fellow journalists.”

Higgins is also a recipient of multiple other awards pertaining to racing media, including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Henry T. McLemore Award (1980) and the NMPA’s George Cunningham Award (1987). Additionally, he was NASCAR’s Bill France Award of Excellence winner in 1996.

These days, Higgins continues to write columns on motorsports from the nostalgia perspective for both the Observer and its racing site, ThatsRacin.com.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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