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Reflections On Racing Safety

Saturday, Aug. 23, West Allis, Wis. – It’s a quiet morning in the media center at the Milwaukee Mile, a stark contrast to the atmosphere of the full house that was here on Saturday afternoon, June 21, the day of the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at The Mile.

The quiet time gave me a chance to reflect on what had transpired in the racing world on that Saturday afternoon in June.

It was near the end of the NNS qualifying session here at The Mile when word began to spread in the media center that renowned drag racer Scott Kalitta had been critically injured in a racing incident in New Jersey.

People began searching websites for more information on the accident. A few minutes later word came in that Kalitta had succumbed to his injuries.

The TV’s in the room were tuned to the local feed from ESPN for Nationwide qualifying. Jim Tretow, Vice President of Media and Communications for The Mile came into the room and quickly switched to the ESPN network feed, where the crash was shown and the official announcement of Kalitta’s death was made.

Seeing the video of the crash it was evident to the well-seasoned racing press in the room that the crash was extremely violent and virtually unsurvivable.

The room became extremely quiet for a few minutes as the realization of a lost racer sank in. Activity soon returned to a normal pace but it was just a little quieter and more subdued than normal.

Later, as the crowd packed the grandstand and pre-race ceremonies were about to conclude, track announcer, Dean Strom, asked for a moment of silence in memory of Kalitta. Although the crowd was here for a NASCAR race, it was evident they were true race fans as they instantly recognized the name and an audible gasp from the crowd expressed shock at the announcement.

Racing safety has improved to the point where drivers now walk away from accidents that could have proved to be tragic not too many years ago.

A death or serious injury in our sport brings the racing community, participants and fans alike, together. It reminds us that the sport we love is still inherently dangerous and always will be, even as safety factors including driver safety equipment, car and track design and other steps are taken to make racing safer.

Kalitta’s death was a stark reminder to us all that our sport, so much safer now than in years past, is still risky and any time a driver climbs into a car there is a chance that they may not climb out.

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