Turn 2 Blog: Big Crowds, Concussions and the Southern Nationals


Richard: Wow! What a news-filled past couple of weeks we’ve had here in this region. If we couldn’t have found anything to report on over the past 10-12 days we might as well get out of this business.

I want to start this discussion off with a mention of concussions. We have now seen these head injuries claim two of the southeast region’s top stars over the past few months. Randy Weaver hasn’t raced since April due to the devastating effects of post-concussion syndrome that resulted from a nasty looking rollover wreck in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series race at East Alabama Motor Speedway. And now, Chris Madden is having to forego the Southern Nationals, a mini-series in which he has enjoyed great success, because of a concussion suffered during the LOLMDS event recently held at Smoky Mountain Speedway.

Until the NFL and other sports related organizations began to seriously study the impact of these injuries over the past decade or so, little was truly known about them. Had these two drivers suffered the same types of injuries ten years ago, they may have tried to race again shortly after their respective accidents, not fully understanding why their performance had dropped off and why they were feeling sick so much of the time.

Despite all the safety advances made in racing, this is still a dangerous sport.

Michael: The improvements in safety, in all levels of racing, has taken away the aspect of danger in racing. It’s almost an afterthought, until someone gets seriously hurt. But going really fast and then suddenly coming to a stop is likely to cause some kind of an injury.

Having said that, I have always been an opponent of a racetrack that does not have outside walls. Even though drivers aren’t hitting a hard wall and coming to a sudden stop, there is evidence of drivers sustaining more serious injuries or even death. You mentioned Weaver’s accident, that is one example. It was a number of years ago another driver left the track that had no walls and struck a grader parked a long way from the racing surface. That driver was killed.

Hitting a hard wall has different consequences. The Madden crash shows that. There is no real solution to this without tracks making a sizable upgrade by installing a SAFER barrier. But local tracks cannot afford that because the cost is really high. If insurance companies were to require this, most of them would go out of business. It’s a tricky issue.

Richard: The issue of no walls, concrete walls, guard rails and SAFER Walls is indeed a tricky topic. As you said, requiring SAFER systems around local tracks, whether they be dirt or asphalt, is not feasible. Only tracks that host NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1 races can afford that.

So then, what is the best alternative?

Like you, I am leery of not having anything at all along the outside of the track to contain the cars. That seems to be running an unnecessary risk to drivers and spectators alike. I remember an ARCA race in the not too distant past in which a car had its throttle hang open and ended driving well off the course and hitting a piece of safety equipment. However, guard rails and concrete offer possible negative outcomes as well.

The main thing is to see to it that the cars are built safely, that drivers are wearing the proper safety equipment, and that the tracks are doing everything within reason to prevent disaster.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers need to make sure they are taking care of themselves after the fact. Weaver and Madden are making the right decisions. The only thing that could possibly come out of them rushing back to the track is to make things worse.

Now to completely change the subject, how about some of the attendance numbers we are seeing this season? So far, I have been to five races in which it has been announced that the crowd on hand was the largest in the speedway’s history. That has been the case at Rome(GA) Speedway, Richmond(KY) Raceway, Crossville(TN) Speedway, and Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain Speedway on two separate occasions.

People love these big events. The numbers speak for themselves. That said, is this an indication that fans may be willing to forego weekly racing in favor of saving their money for the big, sanctioned shows or can both weekly racing and special events co-exist?

Michael: I think the two can co-exist if there is the right promoting taking place. Based on the numbers of racers participating, the tracks currently running weekly shows in our area is about the right amount. I feel another track or two could add a weekly program if they do two things. One, have some variety in the classes they run. Two, get out and promote the weekly events, make them feel like they are an event.

I have been amazed at some of the crowds this season. And not all of those were for national-sanctioned events. Still, Lucas and WoO will bring in the crowds. It’s as close to a guarantee as there is in racing. It just shows there doesn’t need to be another huge event with a huge fan draw in the area to attract a big crowd.

Richard: I think you are right to point out that tracks running weekly programs need to offer a bit more variety and to promote better. Unfortunately, this is very much a monkey see, monkey do type business and when one track sees another doing well with some new class they immediately offer a “special event” on an off night of the originating track to lure that class in. Then the next thing you know, there are two tracks running that same division with a very diluted field of cars.

But more importantly, promotion is the key. These big races almost tend to promote themselves because of fans getting on social media to discuss who will be there and what sort of race they expect to see. However, that may not always be true of the local, weekly shows. In those cases, it’s up to the promoter to let people know why they need to come to that track on that particular night. There needs to be something that draws folks in. We have some tracks in our area that seem to do well at this and others who do not.

Finally, we are now in the midst of the Southern Nationals. This is one of my favorite times of the year with so much racing going on during such a relatively short period of time. Ray Cook and his team do a good job of getting these races organized and getting quality drivers to the track.

With five-time champion Chris Madden out due to a concussion, the series is wide open this year. It will be interesting to watch it all play out over these two weeks, won’t it?

Michael: Madden was going to be the favorite. Since he dropped out, Casey Roberts appeared to be the favorite, but he was not at the opener at Wythe over the weekend. I don’t know if he skipped it because of the weather, didn’t get his car fixed in time, or just decided not to participate at the last minute. With those two being out, that leaves things wide open as to who will win this year’s title.

As was the case at Wythe, there will be certain drivers that will run certain track that will really mix up the field and the point standings. For me, that is what makes things more interesting for this series than the Summer Nationals.

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