By now, most sports fans, even the casual ones, have heard about the tragic death of Indy racer, Dan Wheldon. He was 33 years old and among the most elite in his sport. A superstar. He won the Indianapolis 500, for the second time, this year, and is the 4th winningest driver in the history of the sport. This guy was like the Dwayne Wade of Indy racing. Now he’s gone…..forever.
When I checked Facebook this morning, I noticed my Dad had posted a status update about his death. He doesn’t know a thing about racing, but he was making the point that no other sport has the fatality numbers that auto racing does. I knew he was right, but I thought I would take some time to check the facts. As is the case in many of my blogs, the research took me in a direction I didn’t expect. This time maybe more than ever.
Having scoured over many different sources, trying to find information about sports related deaths, I was blown away. The top 3 sports to have fatalities as a result of participation were football, boxing, and auto racing, in that order. What blew me away was the fact that football and boxing, as well as every other sport I could find records on, had less than 30 deaths in the history of their sport. EVER! Boxing in the high 20’s, football in the mid 20’s. By the way, the football numbers included the NFL, AFL, CFL and all NCAA players. Yet when I got to auto racing, the names of all the drivers killed, as a result of the sport, were broken down alphabetically. That’s right. So many drivers have lost their lives in a race car that it had to be broken down alphabetically. What’s wrong with this picture?
Now, to be fair, if you want to call it that, the safety of the drivers was aweful back in the old days of racing. In the last 30 years, the improvements in the protection of the drivers is incredible. I mean, hey, since 1985, only 104 drivers have died. Those are great numbers, right? Hardly. Only about 50 people in the history of boxing and football, combined, have ever died participating in their sport, but twice that have died in some form of auto racing in just the last 26 years. At what point does it end?
I know that putting an end to auto racing is a completely ludicrous idea. It will never happen. However, something needs to be done about the safety of these drivers. I understand that vehicle designs will improve, as will race suits, helmets and other driver protection, but isn’t it time to look at the most obvious safety measure we could use. LESS SPEED.
In a time where every motor sport falls under highly scrutinized regulations about what can and can’t be done to cars, in an effort to make all the vehicles virtually identical, why can’t speed be taken down about 10 notches. I mean, it’s supposed to be about the driving right? I realize that a race team can try to squeeze every ounce of juice out of an engine, but how ’bout we make it a 4 cylinder with a maximum output of 300 horsepower. Does it really matter if the car tops out at 125? If they are all going that speed, than only the best DRIVER will win.
I know this whole thing sounds preposterous, but I’m just trying to think outside the box. Fans love the speed, and the idea of race cars maxing out at a lower speed than the car in their garage, doesn’t sound very appealing. However, continuing to have such a high number of fatalities in a sport should, at least, start people talking about a drastic change. I, for one, would still watch NASCAR if they were only going 125. Hell, maybe then they would add some more road courses. That’s real racing. 😉