Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time for Charlotte Motor Speedway to put SAFER walls everywhere

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In the wake of the accident that kept Kyle Busch out of the Daytona 500 Sunday, Charlotte Motor Speedway needs to find a way to quickly place soft walls all around the inside and outside of its 1.5-mile track before its series of big races in May.

Like almost all the tracks in the top three NASCAR series, CMS has the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers in a lot of the spots that drivers hit most often -- like the turns -- but not everywhere.

Texted Scott Cooper, a spokesman for the Charlotte track, in response to my question about where the SAFER walls were at CMS: "I don't know the percentage [of walls covered with SAFER Barriers at CMS]. We have some on inside walls as well as [the] majority of outside."

That's not enough. We saw that Saturday night.

Charlotte should learn from Daytona's big mistake, which I wrote about in this column. The Daytona track has been heavily promoting a $400-million renovation, but what it has not done is cover all its walls with technology that is proven to make drivers safer. That is inexcusable and incomprehensible. Daytona Speedway president Joie Chitwood III said Saturday night that his track would change that for future events and cover every inch of its inside and outside walls with SAFER barriers.

"The Daytona International Speedway did not live up to its responsibility today," Chitwood said. "We should have had a SAFER barrier there today. We did not. We're going to fix that. We're going to fix that right now."

Busch hit an unprotected wall head-first Saturday night in an Xfinity Series race and broke multiple bones due to the impact. He may be out for many weeks.

Where Busch hit the wall was not too far from where Kevin Harvick had banged into the wall in the 2014 Daytona 500 -- also hitting an unprotected wall. Harvick's complaints went mostly unnoticed afterward.

As Harvick said Sunday of Daytona's decision to put SAFER walls everywhere after Busch's wreck: "I think it's a reaction from the track, unfortunately. I hit the same wall a little further up last year at this particular race and kind of voiced my opinion. Unfortunately, I was just a dot on the chart. There was no reaction. Now there is a reaction from the race track. Hopefully, this is a lesson learned."

The barriers are expensive, at a reported cost of $500 per square foot. That means it can cost $2.6 million to install a mile's worth of the SAFER barriers. Tracks throughout NASCAR's top series must install them at least in the corners. But NASCAR does not make tracks line its walls with SAFER barriers on both the inside and outside walls, and only a few of the shorter ones do.

Charlotte Motor Speedway has a chance to get in front of this issue. No matter the cost, the Speedway needs to pony up. Put the SAFER walls everywhere, before someone else gets badly hurt.

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