Roger Diez: Accidents a reminder of how dangerous motor sports can be

We had two grim reminders last week of the danger inherent in all motor sports. Although I primarily cover events involving four-wheeled vehicles, I have a healthy respect for motorcycle, boat, and airplane racers. All racers know the perils of the sport, and accept it as part of the game. Even race officials and marshals willingly put themselves in harm's way at times to ensure an event's safety, and some have lost their lives doing so.

The tragedy at the Reno Air Races was particularly tragic because spectators lost their lives and suffered injuries. It brings to mind the horrific Lemans crash in 1955, when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes Benz crashed into a grandstand, killing him and 83 spectators, and injuring 120 more. The accident prompted Mercedes to withdraw from racing, not to return until the 1980s. It remains to be seen what impact last week's accident will have on the Reno Air Races. If the event does continue, I'm certain that steps will be taken to ensure that spectators are never again involved.

The other fatal incident occurred during the Silver State Classic, an annual high-speed event held on Nevada Highway 318 in Nye County. A driver and his navigator were killed when a tire blew on their Camaro at over 200 miles per hour.

A similar incident happened in the mid-90s involving Terry Herman of Lake Tahoe, who was a racing acquaintance of mine. And, the nearby Virginia City Hillclimb has also had its share of fatalities over the years. Many of the safety features found at purpose-built race tracks are obviously missing at open-road type events. Also, the cars are not prepared to the safety standards required by professional race-sanctioning bodies, making them inherently more dangerous.

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On a much lighter note, I mentioned last week that Karen Stoffer of Minden has been having a good season on her NHRA Pro Stock motorcycle. Stoffer went all the way to the final at Charlotte last Sunday, but lost to points leader Eddie Krawiec. Stoffer is now second in season points.

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While some front-runners ran out of gas, Tony Stewart stretched his fuel to win the rain-delayed Geico 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday.

It was the first race of the Chase for the Championship and Stewart's first win of 2011, making it 12 straight seasons in which he has scored a Cup victory. Jeff Gordon, my pick to win the Chase, had a miserable race and ran out of fuel two laps from the end. But there are nine races remaining, so it is anybody's title to win.

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NASCAR's recent announcement of two technical rule changes for next month's Talladega race has generated a lot of controversy. The first is a restrictor plate change, an extra 1/64 in diameter, which will give engines an extra seven to 10 horsepower. The second is a recalibration of the cars' cooling system pressure by eight pounds per square inch. The effect of this change will be to reduce the two-car draft, as the cars will overheat more quickly. Some drivers have estimated that they won't be able to draft for much more than a lap without having to pull out to get air into the radiator. The main objection is that the rules shouldn't be changed during the Chase.

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Formula 1 visits Singapore this weekend for its only night race. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel has a commanding lead in the points with Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in second place. Jensen Button of McLaren and Vettel's teammate Mark Webber are tied for third. Vettel has not yet mathematically clinched the 2011 drivers' championship. But if he wins at Singapore, Button and Webber would have to finish second to stay in the hunt, and Alonso must finish no worse than third. For any of those three to win the championship, Vettel would have to finish out of the points in the last five races of the season. So far has won eight of the 13 races this year, so don't expect your local sports book to give better than even odds on his winning his second championship.

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