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Auto racing still among most dangerous sports

By Thomas Knisley
On October 24, 2012

It has been two weeks since Dale Earnhardt Jr. was behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Earnhardt suffered a concussion during a tire test at Kansas Speedway back in August. It was then re-aggravated during a massive pile-up at the conclusion of the Talladega race two weeks ago.

When I heard Junior had suffered a concussion, and that he had hit the wall at over 35 G's, the old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same" came to mind.

Let's face it. We can make all the safety changes in the world to make the sport safer, but the reality will always remain that these are mortal men and women driving man-made machines. Auto racing always has been, and always will be, the most violent and dangerous sport in the world.

In a day and age where player safety has become a major issue, primarily in the NFL, race drivers around the world still put their lives on the line each and every week. Auto racing is a sport where the competitors face the reality of death going into each turn.  As much as we may try to make the sport safer, the reality of serious injury or death will never disappear.

The death of Dan Wheldon last October serves as a grim reminder of this truth. MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli was killed in a crash during the Malaysian Grand Prix just one week later. Even at the NASCAR Sprint Cup series event at Kansas this past week, Denny Hamlin was monitored for dizziness after striking the wall during practice. During the race, Aric Almirola was clearly dazed after cutting a tire and hitting the wall, causing the car to go ablaze.

Even with all of the safety improvements, such as the HANS device and the SAFER barriers, the sport of auto racing will never be "totally safe".

Other sports measure greatness by the numbers and statistics that their athletes contribute. Sure, when I think of auto racing, I think of all-time greats like Richard Petty, Michael Schumacher and John Force.  But there is another element of greatness when I think of auto racing: sacrifice. I think of drivers who have perished and what legacies they have left behind.  I think of men like Ayrton Senna, Dale Earnhardt, and Bruce McLaren just to name a few.

This element of greatness in sports can only be found in auto racing. In no other sport does an athlete face a plausible chance of dying during the actual competition.

It's not something racers like to think about, but it is something that they, along with crew and fans, accept. So long as there are daring drivers, fast vehicles, and fans willing to watch the two, auto racing, along with its dangers, will remain alive and well.


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