IndyCar drivers believe it’s up to them to prevent crashes

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MADISON, Illinois – As the NTT IndyCar Series arrived in the St. Louis area for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500, it’s a chance to flip the script and focus on a short oval after surviving last Sunday’s superspeedway race at Pocono.

The 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway classifies as a “short oval” although it is over one-mile in length. But with its tight turns and relatively flat surface, it will feature a more traditional style of racing than the high-speed, high-risk superspeedway formula.

“It’s typical short track racing,” Power told NBC Sports.com. “You have to be able to get through traffic. It’s pretty tough there. It’s such a pity we can’t open that second lane because it is there. The only reason it doesn’t open is everyone falls in line at the start and the inside line gets rubber and the outside lane gets the marbles and that destroys the lane. If everyone went the second lane during the first stint of the race, it would come in and you would have a fantastic race.

“It’s really difficult to pass so you have to be quite aggressive to pass and somebody is always going to be the loser in that and get up in the marbles. A multiple lane, short oval track, there is nothing better. Iowa is like that and it creates great racing. We can have great short oval racing if we somehow create a second lane.”

Although the shorter oval with slower speeds doesn’t eliminate the risk, it lessens it to a degree because of the reduction in speed and impact if a car hits the SAFER Barrier.

Power, who won last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono, believes with all of the safety innovations that have been instituted by INDYCAR in recent years, the greatest safety measure remains the person behind the steering wheel.

Last Sunday’s race at Pocono was marred for the second-straight year by a massive crash on the first lap that damaged the fence, sent one driver to the hospital for evaluation and created days’ worth of dialogue from the drivers involved.

Power is among those that believe a driver can impact safety the most by making the right decision at a moment of high risk.

“That’s true, there’s no question it’s up to the drivers,” Power said. “The formula the series mandates, they are very much on top of these days to make it good racing, safer and more about the driver. It just blows me away that in a 500-mile race that people do that. I understand it’s hard when you have a run on someone and can make up a couple easy positions, it’s hard to sit back. It was hard to pass last year, but this year was a little easier.

“There just has to be a higher level of respect when you are racing at a superspeedway. You have to be willing to back out of a move unless you are 100 percent it is going to come up. I lift unless there are 10 laps to go. Then, you are very respectful of the speed on a superspeedway.

“I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard yellow after another big crash in Turn 2. I thought after last year, everyone would have chilled out. It was three cars in a tight spot, too close together at very high speed.”

With so many veteran drivers in a series that features some outstanding young talent, Power was asked if the more experienced drivers need to play a role in speaking out to help prevent crashes before they occur.

Ironically, last Sunday’s crash featured four talented veteran drivers including Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato and James Hinchcliffe. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist’s car was sent into the fence after it ran into Sato’s car after it rebounded from the initial crash.

“Look at the crash last year between Hunter-Reay and Wickens, same deal,” Power explained. “If that had been 10 to go, Hunter-Reay would have expected Wickens to stay there and Wickens would have expected Hunter-Reay to stay there. But on the first lap, there is a bit of uncertainty there, so someone has to be willing to back out.

“It’s tough. We are all out there racing and everyone wants wins these days. If you can get a position, you will.

“It’s definitely on the drivers. We all back bad decisions at times but on a superspeedway, I really feel like stepping back and being willing to back out. Simon Pagenaud and I were side-by-side down the backstretch and I was even a little ahead, but it was really early, and I decided to back down and tuck behind him.

“It was way early.”

Power believes there is no one single driver that should bear the responsibility of last Sunday’s crash, although it appears obvious Sato played the biggest role.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens“The first lap is double-file, and everyone was packed up,” Power said. “I don’t see it as anyone’s fault, it was just unfortunate. I feel bad for Pocono these accidents happen. I would not say that accident was overly aggressive driving. It wasn’t.

“It was just three guys going straight that were just too close together.”

What was most concerning to some was it was the second year in a row that a major crash happened at the start of the IndyCar Series race at Pocono. After dealing with last year’s crash that left Robert Wickens paralyzed from the waist down, drivers didn’t need to be reminded of the risks versus reward of daring moves at the start of the race.

“That’s why a lot of people keep doing the same thing they do, they don’t think about what they did last time, so it continues to happen,” five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “That’s the first sign of insanity, isn’t it?

“It’s not so easy to self-police because it becomes paybacks and you can’t do that. For all of us, we just have to be glad that everybody in that crash is OK.”

Hunter-Reay indicated the drivers need to have a little more self-respect for each other and take care of each other better in risky situations.

“As a group, we need to realize we need to take care of each other, especially on the first lap of a 500-mile race,” Hunter-Reay told NBC Sports.com. “Everybody races hard, no doubt about it. We need to focus on higher percentage moves on a superspeedway. If this happened on a road course, nobody is talking about that because the consequences aren’t as severe.

“We can have a discussion among ourselves and address that, everybody is going to race hard and we are racing inches apart and sometimes these things are going to happen. I think as a group we can discuss that.

“I don’t know about policing, as much as the drivers need to have mutual respect.

“I love Pocono. I won there. I really enjoy the race track. It’s very challenging. It’s a superspeedway unlike any other. It’s unfortunate these things have happened, but they could have happened elsewhere.”

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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