The 2015 running of the Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be remembered by a horrible lap 14 crash that sent 21 year old driver Austin Theriault into the outside wall estimated at over 150 miles per hour. The extent of his injuries are not yet known, but he was airlifted to a local hospital for further evaluation.
Theriault was running in the eighth position at the time of impact. He made contact with teammate Tyler Reddick after Reddick lost control of his truck momentarily. Reddick tried to correct his truck because couldn’t do so without making contact with Theriault. The contact sent Theriault into the outside wall at high speed.
It was a pure racing incident. Yet, there was still one problem with the incident. The part of the wall where Theriault hit did not have SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barriers and he hit pure concrete. I immediately thought to myself, “concrete? In 2015?” Yes. It seems outrageous. It makes you wonder about the people who own these racetracks and where their best interests are.
Since the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, NASCAR and their racetracks have been given credit for their movement towards safety. Shortly after Earnhardt’s death NASCAR mandated that drivers wear the HANS (Head And Neck Safety) device or Hutchens device to help keep a drivers head secure in the car.
We also saw racetracks become pro-active by adding SAFER barriers to the majority of the racetracks. Soon “soft walls” as they became known came up in bunches. Tracks seemed to steadily improve their walls to include SAFER barriers, then all of sudden that seemed to stop. 14 years after Earnhardt's death there are still high action parts of a racetrack without SAFER barriers. It's almost unbelievable.
As we saw in the season opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Raceway, not all walls have SAFER barriers. Kyle Busch crashed in the event and hit a part of the wall without SAFER barriers. Busch hit the wall at high speed and resulted in him having numerous injuries including a broken right leg and a broken left foot.
Daytona International Speedway, embarrassed by the situation, immediately apologized for their mistake and when it came time for Sunday’s Daytona 500 the track put a tire barrier in front of the wall to help resist the impact of a car if a similar incident should occur. When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series went back to Daytona International Speedway in July for the running of the Coke Zero 400, that particular part of the wall had been equipped with a SAFER barrier.
No reason was given for why there wasn’t SAFER barriers in that place in the first place. There have been reports that SAFER barriers are expensive and cost a lot of money for these racetracks. According to a March 19th article in SB Nation the barriers cost $500 per square foot. What people seemed to forget is that at the time of Busch’s accident Daytona International Speedway was going through a $400 million renovation to help the facility to become the top motorsports facility in the world. The renovation will be completed by the 2016 Daytona 500.
Just one week after Busch’s incident at Daytona, Jeff Gordon was involved in a wreck at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Gordon found a part of the wall that didn’t have SAFER barriers, something many fans could not believe considering what they saw a week earlier.
Then comes Theriault’s crash on Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, like Atlanta Motor Speedway, is owned by Speedway Motorsports Incorporated. Their chairman is the well-known Bruton Smith. The company owns several other tracks on the NASCAR circuit including Charlotte and Texas Motor Speedway.
Except, for one thing, SAFER barriers. There’s no excuse to not have SAFER barriers on every high action part of a racetrack. With all the excessive spending going around you have to wonder why tracks haven’t budgeted that in. At the end of the day what is more important? Driver safety or a 16,000 square foot video board at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It comes down to priorities and that is where some of these racetracks have failed.
The company is a multi-million dollar organization. For fans who have been to both the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in recent years notice one thing. If you look on the backstretch of both racetracks there is a massive video board. At Texas Motor Speedway the board is named “Big Hoss TV” and according to a March 20, 2014 article on SB Nation the board was estimated to cost “tens of millions of dollars.” Charlotte Motor Speedway has a similar board. That board at Charlotte echoed the cost of the board at Texas Motor Speedway. If you talk to people who go to any on the SMI tracks across the country, those people will say the hospitality at those tracks is fantastic. They’re “state of the art” facilities and their attention to detail is exceptional.