There are a lot of arguments for both sides. People actually got hurt on Sunday when Carl Edwards went flipping through the air into the retaining fence. What makes things worse, Carl actually sprinted, on his own feet to the finish line, apparently unhurt in the slightest. The people who were hurt were fans. That has to be NASCAR's worst nightmare: Fans buying tickets and ending up in the hospital.
Not that it's bad that Carl was unhurt. Most of us, as fans, never want to see drivers, crew or anyone else associated with racing get hurt. I know I never do. Driving race cars is a dangerous pastime, and we all know the danger is there, which I suppose is one of the reasons we like it so much. People who appear ordinary doing extraordinary things usually creates a fan base.
My heart goes out to the people who were injured in the stands at Talladega. They got a little more excitement than they were banking on. I hope this won't influence their decisions about whether or not to remain as NASCAR fans. I suppose it might make them want to choose different seats if they attend races in Alabama again though.
Talladega has been a controversial track since the very beginning. There are many who say that the track is just too big, that the speeds achieved are just too excessive for the equipment that the racers are using. A lot of drivers boycotted the inaugural race in 1969, including Richard Petty. The first race in the old Grand National series ever run by several drivers was at Talladega in 1969 because of the boycott. One of those drivers was a young guy, racing on a wing and a prayer, named Richard Childress. Richard didn't win the race, but it was that opportunity that led to bigger and better things, which eventually included stepping out of the car and allowing another young driver to step into it. That man's name was Dale Earnhardt. Would Richard Childress have made it without Talladega? Would the track's eventual driver with the races most won, Dale Earnhardt, have made it without Talladega? Would history have been altered if Talladega was just another run of the mill track? I suppose we'll never really know, but we do know what we have.
Richard Childress got his start there. Dale Earnhardt had great success there. The son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also had great success there. History has already been made. We can't take it back.
If Talladega can be made safer, I'm all for it. I visited this track in 2004, and saw one of Dale Earnhardt Jr's wins there. The track itself, is, well, huge. It's 2.66 miles in length. I've been to quite a few race tracks, but never one that made me think I was instead at a rather large airport, instead of a race track. If seen from the air, the track actually dwarfs the actual airport next to the track. It's like the Godzilla of race tracks. I'm not sure we don't need at least one Godzilla in the circuit.
The drivers all know the risks. If the fans have any kind of knowledge of the sport, they know that if they sit on the front row, stuff can happen. Bobby Allison in 1987. Now it's Carl Edwards in 2009. There have been quite a few others as well over the years.
It can be said that Talladega is inherently unsafe. Even with restrictor plates, the speeds down the straights can easily top 200 mph. My guess is that even though the roof flaps help the cars from becoming airborne when they're turned around, their effect might be somewhat negated by the fact that NASCAR now mandates this huge wing on the back of the car, which means when the car is going straight ahead, it provides down force for the rear of the car. But, turn one of these cars around at 200 mph, does not that wing become an air foil, much as the wing on an airplane? Does it not provide lift when the car gets turned around, instead of down force?
NASCAR, I'm sure, will endeavor to set things right before we see another Talladega race. I'm guessing that even probably before we see another Daytona race in July, for that matter. Safety is good, especially for the fans. Few of them make anywhere near the money that the drivers make to take the risks that they do. Fans pay to see the races. Drivers get paid to put on the show. It's logical that the drivers should take the majority of the risk, rather than the fans.
Whatever NASCAR decides to do, their decision will be met with equal praise and scorn. I'm guessing NASCAR probably knows that by now. They probably don't care too much either way.
But fans in the stands getting hurt is a hit NASCAR definitely doesn't want to take right now. As a fan of the sport, neither do I. As a human being, I hate seeing fans of any sport getting hurt just because they are fans.