On Feb. 18, the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) lost one of its most famous and successful drivers. At approximately 190 miles per hour and only seconds away from the finish line, Dale Earnhardt crashed into the wall at the Daytona 500.
Known as “The Intimidator,” Earnhardt, 49, died as a result of massive head injuries sustained in that accident.
This accident has brought up a lot of controversy surrounding the safety of NASCAR drivers and what precautions should be enforced to ensure their safety.
News reports first attributed Earnhardt’s death to the fact that he did not wear the new Head and Neck Support (HANS) system. Analysts then declared that had Earnhardt been wearing a full-head helmet that protects the chin, he might have survived.
News reports came out that Earnhardt’s left lap seat belt had torn apart, which meant that he was probably thrown into the steering column.
The simple fact is that while we can all guess at the factors that might have contributed to his death, nobody knows for sure. It is not certain the HANS system or a full-head helmet would have saved his life. It is not certain that had his car been involved in another type of crash, the seat belt would have been a major factor.
In all simplest terms, the crash was an accident. Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevy Monte Carlo slightly collided with Sterling Marlin’s car, causing it to veer to the right and plow into the wall. Rather than place blame on all the questionables, we need to recognize the fact that the car hit the wall at a high rate of speed in just the wrong way at just the wrong time.
Earlier in the race, 19 cars got tangled up leading to a 16-minute red flag to clean up the mess. In this crash Tony Stewart suffered only a sore shoulder after his Pontiac flew and flipped through the air.
All professional athletes understand the dangers involved in their sport. Hockey players lose their teeth, baseball players get hit by pitches, football players break bones and race car drivers may crash.
Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion with 25 years of racing experience, understood the dangers involved in driving a race car. He chose not to wear the HANS device because it impaired his vision. He chose not to wear a full-head helmet because it was uncomfortable. If he goes into a race knowing his life could be spared by wearing these devices and chooses not to, who has the right to second guess his judgement.
Secondly, it is unknown whether or not his seat belt was broken going into the race or if it broke upon impact.
The last person who wanted to see Earnhardt die in a NASCAR crash was Earnhardt himself. He was on top of the racing world, owner of a multi-million dollar company, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and was about to place third behind his son and another member of his team at the Daytona 500.
As a member of the media I understand that we need to put out as much viable information as possible after a tragedy. Just once I would like to hear a news person say, “It was an accident” and move on. I would like to hear NASCAR officials say, “We are not going to make any new safety rules as a result of the Earnhardt crash, because it was just an accident.”
In a tragedy, people are so quick to point blame and ask the “what ifs” instead of accepting the fact that accidents happen.
Kelly Serrano, a senior journalism major, is sports editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.