Following the death of dirt track driver Kevin Ward Jr tracks and sanctioning bodies across the racing world are reviewing and revising rules that govern when drivers should get out of a wrecked car.
NASCAR, the world leader in motorsports, is no exception. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards and several other Sprint Cup drivers offered opinions about rule changes that were announced by NASCAR.
The new rules put in place actually better define some that were already a common part of safety meetings held prior to every race that are done to remind drivers that there is a danger involved when exiting a wrecked car before safety crews arrive. Many drivers seemed to agree with the rule changes but also said drivers were more aware of the dangers in all forms of racing in any series.
Carl Edwards provided a brief bit of insight into how he, and many other drivers, were reacting following Ward’s on-track death. Ward was killed when he exited his dirt track car and walked into oncoming cars in an apparent effort to let Tony Stewart know how he felt about being raced hard. Stewart’s car struck ward killing him. The race was not associated with any NASCAR sanctioned event.
"I will say that regardless of rule changes,” Edwards said, “I think everything that went on last weekend, I believe that it's a turning point internally for all the drivers. I think people will be a little more careful."
Firming Up The Rule
The new rules announced by NASCAR firm up when a driver can leave their wrecked car and the procedures that should be followed. The only real rule change was that if a driver exits a car too early or in order to approach another driver or car then they could be hit with a fine and penalties. In short, the rule and procedure is simple.
Stay in the car, let the window net down (racing sign-language from driver to crew that “I’m OK”), communicate with the safety crew when they arrive, exit the car, get checked out, jump in an ambulance, and be driven to the car center for a checkup. NASCAR emphasized that a driver should not hesitate to exit a car as quickly as possible in the case of fire, smoke, and dangerous situations. The rules also set standards on slowing caution laps and what cars under caution could or could not do.
The only difference with the driver is that if they exit the car too soon then according to NASCAR it better be because it was for an emergency! NASCAR’s emphasis was that exiting a car should not be done in anger. Drivers, and crews, should not walk towards another car or driver to make a gesture, start a fight, throw something, and or generally make a scene. Robin Pembleton of NASCAR said that he knows drivers will still exit in anger and when they do NASCAR will look at those situations as the occur.
"It's a behavioral penalty," Pemberton said. "We'll acknowledge it when it happens."
Other Drivers Agree with Edwards
Many drivers echoed the same feelings as Edwards to the new changes on the rules. Most said it was a safety reminder from NASCAR that was needed. One driver, Matt Kenseth, put it into terms everyone that has changed a tire by the side of a road could understand.
"Honestly, we haven't thought about it for a long time. You just don't even think about those other cars going by and the slowest they're going by -- at a place like Pocono is 70 (mph). Anybody who has ever changed their tire along an interstate knows that's still pretty fast and things can happen. I think it's good to spell it out. Most of the time we're impatient to get out for a variety of reasons -- even if you're not mad or whatever, you're impatient to get out and see what kind of damage you have. Usually after the safety crews like to hurry up and get it hooked up and get it back and try to get back in the race -- that type of thing. I think it's good to spell it out."