Normally when I write for Grab Bag Sports, I’m doing tons of research and analysis to make sure all my facts are right, to find something others don’t see, to point out something common fans are missing out on that might make them think more, make them watch an event differently. I’m not even reviewing this post a second time because I just want to say something without thinking about it all that much.
Some reader may not know but my analytical nature isn’t by random hobby, it’s my life’s calling. My day job consists of being a data, analytics and operational guru. I create workflow systems, integrations and data and analysis on a daily basis. Measuring data, and finding the idiosyncrasies that can be learned and improvements made from. Some people generalize things like “one in a trillion” whereas my world consists of exactness, curiosity and innovation. Understanding actual probability and success rates for decision making.
When Dan Wheldon died in the awful multi-car accident in Las Vegas in 2011, everyone felt distraught, everyone was in shock, how could this happen? Now here we sit just 4 years later and we’re close to having to count recent motorsports fatalities on multiple hands again. How have we gone back to such a string like the early century and late last century?
When Justin Wilson was struck by Sage Karam’s broken nose cone this weekend at Pocono the words “freak accident” have been thrown around so much it is maddening, because the wide angle of statistics and basic historical fact checking says otherwise.
Just last year James Hinchcliffe was struck by a winglet at the GP of Indianapolis, in 2009 we lost Henry Surtees when he was hit by an errant tire, Felipe Massa was hit in the head by a loose spring. James Jakes just missed being hit by a piece last season that practically took out his roll hoop, at St. Pete a fan was hit by a body piece that flew over the catch fence. Don’t ever say that debris is a freak accident. Debris is a regularity of motorsports, especially when the cars are designed to break apart to lessen impact Gs.
Shit, just this very weekend a fox ran across the track earlier in the race at Pocono, squirrels have caused many issues at the Detroit GP, these items and animals are small but when a car is travelling at 150+mph its serious business and not a fluke of nature.
Exposed helmet issues are nothing new: Dan Wheldon was killed when his head hit a fence post., this year Sebastian Bourdais was nearly run over when Ryan Hunter Reay’s cars went over the top of him in NOLA, I’ve seen Marco Andretti on multiple occasions have a car practically on his head/helmet, Christiano Damatta was in intensive care after striking a deer and it hit him directly, Jules Bianchi died after his head impacted a crane cleaning up an accident, this is not “one in a million.“
People need to get out of denial. Just because the roulette table has hit black 10 times in a row and you’re winning, probability tells you it won’t keep going that way. Just because we had a lucky stretch of years of no major incidents, probability doesn’t care and its why motorsports can never stop improving and shoring up all the problems they find no matter how big or small.
All I want to say is to the many fans and media who have come out idiotically saying “this was a freak accident,” “racing is inherently dangerous,” “this is what these guys signed up for,” “you can’t remove all the danger,” “closed cockpits are hard to figure out,” “roll cages wouldn’t work;” is frankly… shut the fuck up.
In life you can never utter the phrase “it’s the way we’ve always done this.” You always look for ways to improve, otherwise you should never expect improvement in life’s quality and returns and you should never ignore probability and just hope and gamble the stats play in your favor.
Recently, I was begrudgingly turned onto Mixed Martial arts (UFC etc.) by my younger brother who was a wrestler and knew many of these guys growing up at wrestling camps. I’m often torn on watching the UFC in general as a “sport” because the literal purpose of a fight is to injure your opponent enough or tangle their joints painfully enough that they stop fighting back. The sport is literally focused hurting your opponent as bad as you can and yet, as brutal as it is, there have been 0 deaths as long as I’ve been watching and I’ve been watching IndyCar 4 times longer.
There is not a single reason why we leave driver’s heads exposed in race cars other than “we’ve always done it that way.” It is not an aerodynamic improvement, it is simple a problem we’ve not cared to solve. How do we cover the drivers head but still allow them to escape in other scenarios quickly?
It took the traumatic leg and back injuries of Alex Zanardi, Davey Hamilton, Kenny Brack, Pablo Perez and many more for us to finally get our innovation together on side intrusion panels and wheel-climb issues. And even then we needed James Hinchcliffe being skewered by suspension pieces earlier this year to remind us that we weren’t done, we hadn’t perfected side intrusion panels.
Why then are we going to stand complacent on the two biggest issues at the forefront of motorsports safety: catch fencing and open cockpits? We keep moving forward.
Last night I was awoken in the middle of the night. My 2 year old son had a terrible nightmare and he was frantic; he did not want to lay back down or read a story, he was hysterical, and he only wanted one thing, he wanted daddy to hold him and bring him back in “daddy’s bed” because being with daddy and mommy made him feel safe and secure…
After he got in our bed and settled down and went to sleep, I was crushed, because it hit me… because motorsports has deprived Justin Wilson’s daughters of the man who could make them feel safe and secure, the guy who could be their hero. Some would rather take a gamble that an exposed driver’s head and debris is an equation that ends in one in a million. If motorsports bodies and the people in charge want to gamble on fans heroes being killed so often because complacency is easier or cheaper, then fans will be parting ways with open cockpit motorsports because we can’t take this anymore.