When the SK Modified teams of Craig Lutz and Keith Rocco rolled into the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night, those with direct knowledge of the cars involved went there knowing they were spitting in the face of one of the biggest safety issues at any racetrack anywhere.
One can sit and play the blame game, or the why game or the wonder game, all day, but there’s no sugar coating the gravity of what took place on Saturday at the Waterford Speedbowl.
Those two teams showed up at the track without track mandated front wheel tethers on their cars. The tethers have nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the safety of the drivers, the track crew and the fans in the grandstands.
The tethers link the front spindles to the chassis and are in place to keep tires from flying in the event of an accident. The tethers became standard as a safety item in many divisions of racing after three fans were killed during an IndyCar Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999 after a tire and suspension parts flew into the grandstands following a crash during an event.
Yes, the knee jerk reaction of many is to pass all the blame on to the track’s inspection staff. This is at the same time fair and unfair.
Yes, the track’s inspection staff certainly bears some of the responsibility with the incident.
That said, those who want to compare a short track pit area to that of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event where cars go through multiple rigorous pre-race inspections are far off base.
The fact is, few short tracks anywhere have the staff do thorough pre-race inspections on every car that shows up each and every week.
Each car is safety inspected before the season and the onus is on teams to live up to keeping those safety standards in check through the season. They actually sign legal documents agreeing to that.
If someone is willing to bring a car to the track but is not responsible enough to care about fan safety, competitor safety or track crew safety then they shouldn’t be anywhere near a racetrack.
Passing the buck onto to the track inspection crew is just giving the ultimately guilty parties a pass.
It’s like a teenager sneaking out in the middle of the night using the keys to mom’s car, then getting in an accident. Is the accident mom’s fault or the teenager’s fault? You can say mom is responsible for leaving her keys on the counter, but isn’t that really just deflecting blame for a stupid decision made by the teenager that actually committed the act?
Drivers sign agreements before the season that they that they take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others at the track. They’ve entered into a contract saying it’s not something they’re going to mess with.
According to sources close to the track, Rocco’s car is thought to have run without tethers for the last three events, after his car was involved in a massive wreck on May 3 and torn apart. It’s unclear how long this season Lutz ran without them.
No, the brunt of the blame should not be on the track’s inspection staff, but they do bear some of the blame. Rocco’s car had gone through post race inspections on May 10 and May 17 and track inspectors should have picked up on the missing tethers on those occasions.
Wherever blame lands, there’s absolutely no discounting just how big an issue it is, and teams need to understand that fully. A tire into the grandstands could change short track racing across the industry. It would send shockwaves through the grassroots levels of the sport. It’s something that could send insurance premiums for short tracks skyrocketing and the end result would likely be many facilities being forced close up shop under the burden of those premiums.
And again, ultimately, the teams involved are the biggest sinners in the situation and that can’t be discounted or diminished.
It should be expected that adults who have a grasp on the levity of the danger involved with what they’re doing – not just for themselves but for those around them – shouldn’t ever look past such a massive safety measure.