In light of the injuries sustained by fans at the Nationwide Race this past Saturday at Daytona, we are reprinting William Bray’s column from the January 2013 edition of Paddock Magazine. William has served as a Paddock colmnist since 2011.
INJURIES A PART OF MOTORSPORTS HISTORY (reprinted from Paddock Magazine)
By William Bray
My first big-time race was the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1977. I was nine years old and can still feel the grandstands rattle as the top drivers in NASCAR rounded the track’s infamous fourth turn. But my lasting memory was of a wreck that took my favorite driver, Cale Yarborough, out of the race.
Let’s face it. Whether they admit it or not (and many won’t), a big attraction to auto races for many fans is the danger. Cars ablaze, wheels flying through the air. The opportunity to view sheet metal carnage draws thousands of spectators who otherwise would not give racing a second thought.
But that voyeurism can come at the highest price. Attendee deaths occur in all forms of motorsport on a far too regular basis. In 1999, three spectators were killed at Charlotte Motor Speedway at an Indy Racing League race when tires sailed past the catch fence into the crowd. Eight more died at the California 200 in 2010, an off road race through the Mojave Desert.
And those tragedies paled in comparison to the 1955 tragedy at Le Mans, when 80 spectators were killed when a Mercedes launched into the crowd after becoming airborne.
With each fatality, sanctioning bodies and race organizers have scrambled to address safety and make attendance less dangerous. After the 1999 incident in Charlotte, the IRL required all tires to be on tethers. Catch fences at Michigan Speedway were raised and strengthened after crash debris during a CART race killed three.
In the United States, fatalities at sports venues typically result in years of litigation and millions of dollars of legal fees before the claims are resolved. And no matter your thoughts about personal injury litigation, it is this process that effectively forces track owners and governing bodies to aggressively confront spectator safety.
But what about events that are simply so dangerous that no reasonable safety measures could possibly protect every attendee? Can the efforts of race organizers really protect against spectator deaths at an event such as the Dakar Rally? The simple answer is no. If you decide to attend certain events, you must accept the inherent risks. The law presumes that, and good sense dictates that.
Look at the back of your ticket the next time you attend and event. It will probably be filled with legal disclaimers. You will be asked to waive virtually any imaginable claim against the facility, the participants and the organizers. Ultimately this type of waiver language simply confirms that you are assuming the known risks associated with the event in question.
And that is the bottom line for any savvy fan of motorsport. Make sure that you are comfortable with the risks that come with sitting a few feet from powerful race cars travelling at outlandish speeds. With the thrill comes some risk, not only for the drivers but for the fans.