My 11-year-old grandson Keifer, a Sprint Car aficionado, called me on the phone Sunday afternoon crying. It was the first time that he had experienced the savagery of our sport. He’d seen probably 100 Sprint Car races and Late Model races across the country from Texas to Indiana. One time I was on the way home from the races in Texas and he called me from Haubstadt Tri State Speedway. “Grandpa I’m at a flip fest! They’ve flipped 11 cars and haven’t even started the feature yet.” His young mind was impervious to death.
Anytime somebody pulls a bell snap there’s a chance that they won’t come back. Did you ever hear about a dead baseball player unless they snorted too much cocaine? The bravery in our sport is real. It was hard to know what to say to Kiefer - because when I was young it seemed like death in the sport was a monthly situation. So many improvements have been made in equipment and cars and facilities that it leads us all to believe that perhaps it is “safe”.
But it’s not.
The threat of death and injury is real. Not only is this fact true for each driver but for the fans and the crews and the officials.
How do you tell a sobbing grandson that it’s going to be alright….when it’s not? I’m proud of my sport and proud of the fact that Kiefer reached age 11 and hadn’t suffered this before. But he knew Dan Wheldon, and he watched him win the most exciteing Indianapolis 500 there’s ever been. And he sobbed, “but he has a wife and two kids, grandpa!” As if that makes any difference to the Grim Reaper. The only thing that I could do was relate some of the experiences that I’d had and some of the experiences that his father had in the viciousness of this sport.
I was at Indy the day we lost Sachs and Macdonald - I couldn’t believe it. Eddy was so friendly to everybody - so nice to a 16-year-old kid who wanted to drive race cars. And in a flash and a fire ball…both he and Dave were gone.
So many great people have gone between that race and Earnhardt. I didn’t understand what Dale was doing with the drivers and the sport. The fact that we can go from there to Dan Wheldon is a tribute to the people who care and have influence and make decisions on the positive side. The drivers were all angry and hurt, and many are seriously considering abandoning the sport that holds their heart and their soul. Would this be because of the death of another driver? No. It’s the operational decisions that have contributed to the situation that allowed this to happen. The drivers have been complaining about safety issues all year. And their voices weren’t heard. I’ve heard interviews that said, 'we’re gonna get somebody hurt or we’re gonna get somebody killed if we don’t get his straightened out.’ And now they have.
Now, this is an old timer talking. The time for this may have passed, and if it has please forgive me, but they should’ve ran the race instead of stopping it. If they had kept running, I could have told my grandson, who was sobbing for a half an hour at the other end of the phone line, that it was about life and how you continue on no matter what happens … and not about death. By not running the race they robbed me and my grandson of that lesson.