IRL drivers look for ways to make tracks safer at TMS and beyond



Bio | Email


Posted on March 6, 2012 at 11:48 PM

FORT WORTH - Ever since Dan Wheldon lost his life in a fiery crash in Las Vegas last October, the Indy Racing League has been focused on making their cars and tracks safer.

"Safety is what it’s all about," said IRL driver Graham Rahal. "That's our focus at this point. We lost a good friend in Dan Wheldon a little less than six months ago, and from that time on as drivers, we've really come together to not only improve Indy car racing and NASCAR as much as we can."
Rahal was guest for media day at the Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday, a track which some internet reports said the drivers were getting ready to boycott because of safety issues on the high-speed oval.
"[We're] really disappointed," said Eddie Gossage, the president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway. "We're the one constant on the Indy Car circuit since we opened our doors 16 years ago. We've been the biggest crowd and the constant for them. A year ago, we had two races, one caution in those two races. I don't understand and don't accept that there is a reason to look at Texas [and say] maybe there is a problem there."

Rahal said the rumors were false, as far as he has seen.
"The boycott was never something that we discussed," Rahal said. "So I don't know, obviously that exploded in recent days, but that was never something  - and the fans here should know - that was never something that we talked about."
The issue is the catch fence.

The poles that support the fence at Texas Motor Speedway are mounted on the inside, with the fence on spectator side. Some of the drivers feel that if they should get airborne, these poles will provide more resistance - kind of a cheese-grater effect. The fence at TMS is set up the same way as the one in Las Vegas, which claimed the life of Dan Wheldon.
"As of right now, I don't know that there is any proof that having a post on one side of the fence is truly better, so I can't comment on that," Rahal said. "But certainly as drivers, that's what we're pushing for."
Rahal said he hopes as technology changes, that the fence may eventually become a thing of the past.
"Well, the question ultimately is, is a fence the safest way to do it?" Rahal said. "Is there a way that you can make a wall out of some sort of clear, Plexiglas material to where the fans can see clearly, where it's basically bullet proof. If you don't have any edges, there's no potential of anybody getting hurt, similar to an NHL arena."

It remains to be seen whether drivers will boycott Texas Motor Speedway before that vision is anywhere close to reality.