Auto racing takes another ugly turn
This is the second time in two months that I’ve had to write about the thing I hate the most, a racing fatality. Last Sunday afternoon, Canadian Greg Moore became the second driver to die in a CART Champ car in as many months.
Moore’s death became particularly poignant for me when I learned in one of the wire stories that he and I share a birthdate. Bobby Rahal probably expressed it best after the race.
“It is a horrible day,” Rahal said. “I hate this sport when this happens. The only saving grace is he didn’t know what hit him. I hate this part of this sport.”
Already, discussions are taking place as to how to eliminate or reduce the danger to drivers in CART. Said Chip Ganassi, first car owner to win four consecutive CART championships, “Maybe it’s time for us to take a step back. I think everybody in this sport needs each other. The Mojo isn’t working. It’s working for my team, but it’s not working for the sport.”
Although the cars are immeasurably safer than cars of 20 or 30 years ago, and tracks are also safer, there is still much to be done. Personally, I wonder why the concrete wall that Moore hit wasn’t protected by a tire wall or some other energy-absorbing device. Elastic crash walls have been used at the Rio de Janiero track for the past few years, and have saved several drivers from serious injury or death.
Mario Andretti addressed this very issue in a column in a recent issue of Champ Car magazine, suggesting that all the major operators of oval tracks in the U.S. band together and commision engineering firms to produce a viable and durable solution to the problem.
Another factor in the accident was that Moore’s car “tripped” and got airborne, rotating so that the top of the cockpit hit the wall with tremendous force. Richie Hearn had a similar accident just a few laps prior, but his car stayed on the ground and he walked away.
I think the Penske organization needs to look at Daytona, where Bill France extended the track’s apron inside the fourth turn all the way to the pit lane after a series of accidents in that area some 15 years ago.
Had the area at Fontana been paved, Moore’s car probably would have remained upright and he would now be looking forward to his next season with the Penske team.
It has been a generally bad year for racing, with Moore’s and Gonzalo Rodrigues’ deaths in CART, spectator fatalities at the IRL Charlotte race, two fatalities at the new Irwindale Speedway, and a number of spectator deaths in European rallies.
I believe that everyone in the sport needs to start working together to create new safety standards to reduce or eliminate as many causes of these tragedies as possible.
n Although local racing for 1999 is history, and CART, IRL and Formula 1 have finished their seasons, racing is far from over for the year. The American LeMans Series ends its season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, and I will be at Sears Point Raceway announcing the Pacific Coast amateur road racing championships.
A number of local drivers will be at Sears Point the following weekend, contesting the Legends Road Racing championship. And of course the NASCAR Winston Cup season has three races to go, with Dale Jarrett all but crowned as the 1999 Champion.
Unfortunately, by Thanksgiving it will be all over, so if anybody has any ideas for things you’d like me to discuss in the offseason, please give me a call at the Appeal: 882-2111, extension 105.
n On this date in 1988: Alan Kulwicki won his first race in his 85th Winston Cup start, taking an 18.5 second victory over Terry Labonte at Phoenix International Raceway. Kulwicki made history with his reverse-direction “Polish Victory Lap,” a tradition that his friends continue in his memory to this day.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.