Danger and safety in racing have become hot topics this past week at IMS...
On Monday of this week, James Hinchcliffe suffered a right front suspension failure during Indy 500 practice, the fifth major incident this month, but definitely the most unsettling - A suspension piece pierced the safety cell of the car and went through his legs.
Race car drivers are human, they can't beat death, but they certainly do conquer it every time they get behind the wheel.
Nick DeGroot on the mentality of a racer
Without the quick actions of the Holmatro Safety Crew, the blood loss could have potentially proven fatal within minutes. It's yet another reminder of how perilous racing still is, but these drivers know the stakes when they're chasing racing immortality at 230+mph around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. They aren't ignorant to the danger, they accept it. I admire that and think Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais put it best. There's plenty of people that can drive fast, but as Kanaan says in that piece, "Not everybody can do this."
It will never be completely safe, no matter how hard we try
Motorsports have never been and never will be completely safe. The concept of auto racing and absolute safety don't really go together. We can only take appropriate measures without diluting the on-track product and ruining the sport in the name of protecting its participants. And yes, there is always room for improvement.
The essence of racing IS danger and competition though, we can't forget that. It's a desire to push the limits and tease the line between complete control and unmitigated chaos. It's about victory and failure, triumph and tragedy. These are all part of the fundamental core that make auto racing what it is.
A league of their own
The fact that all drivers involved in these accidents this month are alive and only one injured should be applauded, but yet, I still see a contingent of people who are bewildered and outraged by the fact that a driver could somehow get hurt doing this. Of course they can. That's why they're in a league of their own and that's why I rank race car drivers above most other sportsmen in the world (as did Ernest Hemingway).
The best out there get in their cars with a desire to win and no fear of the harsh consequences that await them, should something go wrong. They dance with chaos, trying not to trip at speeds exceeding 200mph, inches apart from one another. They are human, they can't beat death, but they certainly do conquer it every time they get behind the wheel.
It takes a certain kind of person to be a race car driver. When they throw themselves off into the corner, they are putting their lives in the hands of the machine they are driving, trusting it and having faith that it will carry them out the other end. At those kinds of speeds, every fiber of your being will be telling you that you're going too fast and need to slow down, an instinct all racers overcome. Even after the violent accidents we've seen recently, all got back into the car and ran as fast as they did before, undeterred. I'm sure Hinchcliffe would do the same, if he were physically able.
Why is it worth it?
Why is it worth the risk, some who don't understand the esoteric mentality of a racer will question. If you have to ask, you'll never truly understand because you don't think like them. If there is a proper answer though, I think Bruce McLaren can give a better response than I ever could. He was a driver who ended up being one of those who paid the ultimate price and perished in pursuit of the checkered flag. He gave this eulogy at the funeral of his friend Timmy Mayer, who was killed in 1964 after a practice crash in the old Tasman Series, six years prior to Bruce's own racing-related death.
To do something well is so worthwhile that to die trying to do it better cannot be foolhardy. It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one's ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.
That is what it means to be a race car driver and that is why I love racing. That is part of the reason why events like Indy and Le Mans are held in a higher regard than others. Not because there is the constant threat of injury, but because the drivers know the risks of what they do and yet, they race on.