There has been a lot of discussion and debate – even here at POPULAR SPEED – about the carnage that was the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The general consensus is that while the racing was indeed exciting and gripping, the rash of unwanted multi-car crashes accented the dangers at Talladega.
Thirty-five of 40 cars were involved in some sort of accident and some drivers, while not seriously injured, left their cars staggering and gasping. Some of the accidents were terrifying with cars airborne, flipping wildly or on fire.
Chris Buescher flipped three times. Kevin Harvick slid across the fence on his roof. Danica Patrick crashed with Matt Kenseth and her car burst into flames. There was even a massive multi-car wreck on the last lap just about the time leader Brad Keselowski crossed the finish line to win his second race of the season.
It was what’s called a “Big One” in an event that had many of them.
Reactions have been varied. Many fans say NASCAR was lucky that no one was killed and must do something to prevent any more mayhem.
It was said that if International Speedway Corp. didn’t own Talladega, NASCAR would never sanction a race there. After all, it has pulled out of other tracks for reasons far less compelling.
An aside: That’s never going to happen.
Others say the kind of racing displayed at Talladega is exactly what they want. Cars ran three, even four, abreast lap after lap and for once passing for the lead was, at long last, something that was far from rare or even nonexistent.
In short, it was riveting and refreshing from what Talladega has had in the past.
These fans got what they wanted. Others suggest they be careful for what they wish – it just might be more than desired. That is the dilemma.
First, a brief history. Talladega has been a place with a legacy of strange occurrences. Maybe that’s because a Native American medicine man placed a curse on the valley after Andrew Jackson drove his tribe away. Or so the story goes.
Two cars crashed once. No big deal except they were the only two on the track. One slid in the first turn into the wall and the other, somehow, managed to roar out of the fourth turn and slam into it.
An entire fleet of cars was sabotaged. A driver’s mother was struck by a truck in the paddock area during a race and was killed. An ominous black cloud coupled with driving rain and fierce winds engulfed the backstretch and third turn just as an ARCA car went into the fourth turn and sped to pit road.
Speaking of the “Big One” perhaps the biggest – and certainly the most notorious – of them all came in 1973, when 21 cars were involved in a melee. Like shrapnel, metal flew everywhere. Engines and transmissions littered the track. Cars were crushed like empty beer cans.
Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough, both involved in the accident, escaped from their cars and hugged each other. They were glad to be alive. As soon as they did another car sailed over their heads.
“I didn’t think it was ever going to stop,” Yarborough said.
“Big Ones” have always been a part of Talladega. Not a race approaches without due notice given to the possibility of mayhem.
Remember that, not so long ago, Talladega races were composed of single-file parades due largely to cars’ inability to avoid aero push, among other things. The car in the lead was the target. But unless another gained some help in the draft with a push, to make a pass was impossible.
Without assistance the car attempting to take the lead fell to the rear quicker than a rock sinks in a swimming pool. As best as I recall, darn few of us liked that kind of racing. But the “Big One” didn’t go away. All it took was a mistake by one car and many became involved.
It’s the same today. But the major difference is that in three, four-pack racing, the situation is far more treacherous. A mere bobble can result in chaos.
But isn’t that something we, as fans, find alluring? We want to see drivers throw themselves at danger. We want to see them take risks that even they admit they would not normally take. We want to see them go as fast as possible as closely as possible.
This increases the odds for accidents. They are inevitable, so the best for which we can hope is that everyone walks away.
Racing is a challenge filled with risk. If it wasn’t there would not be drama and without drama, would we really be interested?
Can anything be done to lessen the risk at Talladega? I’m not sure anyone has an answer.
Runner-up Kyle Busch admitted he didn’t. He added that racing at Talladega has been the way it is for 40 years so why complain?
“I’ve been asked a couple times already what I think NASCAR should do,” said Austin Dillon, who finished third. “I know with the smart people we have in NASCAR, all the companies, that we can probably do something to figure it out. We need to.
“NASCAR has made the car safer. That’s the reason we’re walking away from these crashes.”
Dillon added the sanctioning body should find a way to keep cars from getting airborne.
“I’ve been flying at Daytona and it is no fun,” he said.
“We still get in the cars,” Keselowski said, “and we’re pretty much self-policing. There’s still interest so we will keep going.”
As said, when it comes to Talladega, there are two camps – one that claims racing is decidedly unsafe and the other which savors the exciting, tense competition.
My thinking is the latter is in the majority.
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