Yesterday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway was marred by a final lap pileup of cars sprinting to the finish line. One of those cars, driven by #34 Kyle Larson, was pushed up into the wall and protective fence where the entire front end of the car was sheared off and the engine blasted through the protective fence and landed on a spectator walkway. 28 fans were injured as a result of the incident, which included one of Larson’s tires becoming a projectile over the protective fence into the crowd.
After the race, NASCAR officials held a press conference about the crash concluding the race.
From Daytona Track President Joie Chitwood III:
“Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.”
“We don’t anticipate moving any of our fans. We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area.”
Basically, Mr. Chitwood is stating that the safety protocols were effective because they a) prevented fans from being so close to the track that they were in danger, and b) emergency medical personnel reacted very quickly to the incident.
Here’s my problem with how Mr. Chitwood is defining “safety protocol.” In my opinion, safety is to be preventive and not reactive. Safety is predictive of bad occurrences and creates a feeling of comfort and trust, which builds up the customer experience. Once an incident occurs, it stops being a safety issue and immediately becomes an emergency response and handling issue. The idea of being safe takes a backseat to a reactive measure.
Calling this a success for the safety protocols would be a stretch – the protocols were not stringent enough to protect fans from being hit by a speeding loose tire and/or an entire engine blasting through the reinforced safety fence. And sure, the fans were prevented from being right up beside the track because of the “buffer” but that buffer was totally ineffective against a stray spinning tire since that tire went rows into the crowd.
For proper safety protocols to be in place successfully there would have to be improved preventive measures to maximize patron and driver safety, and to nearly error-proof the safety component of the customer experience.
Some pretty big questions need to be answered by NASCAR going forward to maximize patron safety. A lot of root cause analysis and five-whys can come into play.
- Why did the protective fence get destroyed as it did by the cars crashing into it? Is the fence designed to protect from debris or from the flying race cars themselves?
- How did a stray tire make it over the protective fence that hangs over the track?
- What can NASCAR do to further minimize the safety risks of fans sitting as close to the track as they do?
In my opinion, a fence with reinforcement cables overhanging the track getting shredded by an indirect crash of a car means that there are still some pretty big steps to take to protect the fans.
One of the ways to error-proof a crash in that area of the track affecting fan safety is to move the fans away from the track. That is an option discussed by track officials but I don’t think they will run in that direction because it does detract from the fan experience.
Another way to (nearly) error-proof an incident is to install fencing that will not tear apart by a direct impact of a multi-ton speeding missile tall/wide enough to shroud any projectiles.
Either way, emergency response is not safety prevention. It is reactive and safety recovery.