‘Motor racing is dangerous.’ – Printed on the back or event tickets everywhere.
2013 has been a sad and difficult year for racing. In May we lost Yoshinari Matsushita at the Isle of Man TT and sprint car driver Josh Burton at Bloomingdale Raceway. June was even worse. Allen Simonsen at Le Mans, Wolf Silvester at the Nurburgring, Andrea Mame at Paul Ricard, Paul Mulcahy at the Raven’s Rock Rally, track marshal Mark Robinson at the Canadian Grand Prix and sprint car driver Jason Leffer at Bridgeport Speedway.
Tragically, it didn’t end there. In October, Sean Edwards died coaching young driver William Holzheimer who mercifully survived. Former Formula One test driver Maria de Vilota died, following a heart attack. And on November 14, after a terrible shunt in an Indycar race at Houston in October, Dario Franchitti retired on medical grounds and motocross champion Kurt Caselli died in the SCORE Baja 1000. It’s been a very difficult year for the motorsport community, for drivers, teams and fans. For the families and friends of those killed or injured. this year has been infinitely harder.
I was track-side at Le Mans when Allen Simonsen died. Then and there racing’s dangers stopped being abstract and became all too real. In abstract I already knew and accepted the risks. Drivers are sometimes hurt and occasionally killed while racing. It says on your ticket ‘Motor Racing Is Dangerous’, after all. But the first time you’re track-side when a driver dies, that phrase really hits home. Knowing drivers can be killed doesn’t make it any easier when you’re watching and they are. It stops being a short TV news item, a radio mention, a newspaper article. That’s when you really comprehend racing’s risks.
It would be deeply inappropriate to froth about how the ‘Nanny State’ would ban all racing if they had the chance, to suggest that motorsport should circle its wagons, fend off political correctness. It would be equally inappropriate to say ‘Well, that’s racing. If you don’t like the risks, don’t drive the cars.’ It would be equally inappropriate for racing’s opponents to use these tragic losses to push their own agenda. What would be appropriate, and necessary, is to respectfully mourn those we’ve lost. Then, with prevention in mind, look at eliminating excessive risks without emasculating racing itself. Racing isn’t completely safe. It never will be. It never can be. By it’s very nature it’s inherently risky. Sometimes, mercifully rarely nowadays, the worst happens. Participants are lost or retired through injury. That can never be entirely eliminated. What can be done, what should and must be done, is to eliminate unnecessary risks without destroying the sport.
Deepest condolences must go to the people close to those who suffer death or injury, that goes without saying. But, if anything is to be salvaged from their loss, then limiting risks without neutering a sport they loved enough to risk their lives pursuing would be the best way to acknowledge their sacrifice. It’s impossible to make the sport completely safe. It is entirely possible to eliminate unnecessary dangers.And it’s possible without destroying the challenges and atmosphere of racing itself.
That would be the best memorial we could give them. Our most fitting way to pay them tribute.