NASCAR must learn from its Talladega scare

NASCAR must learn from its Talladega scare TALLADEGA, Ala. — On the morning of the Aaron’s 499 in Talladega, after spending a couple of hours in the infield, I found to my disappointment that the gate in front of the Talladega Superspeedway press box had been locked. As a result, I had to walk down to the start-finish line — it’s near the entrance to turn one, not in the center of the trioval as at most tracks — and cross the track there. I then walked for a half mile or so along the paved pathway at the foot of the grandstands. I looked at the so-called “catch fencing” and thought to myself that it looked neither as new nor as sturdy as at other tracks. This, of course, seemed odd, since a 1988 accident at this track is the very reason such fencing is sturdier than it once was. This was about an hour before the Aaron’s 499 began and about four and a half before that very fencing would be tested. Whether it kept Carl Edwards’ car out of the grandstands by design or good fortune is debatable. Edwards’ whirling mass of twisted metal tore holes in it. His car rose above the top of the fence, where presumably it could have toppled into a crowd of fans. As was also the case in Bobby Allison’s 1988 accident here, the fence held and did its job. As was also the case 21 years earlier, luck was involved. The day won’t live in infamy. Edwards’ car didn’t tumble into the grandstands. A few fans suffered broken bones from sharp, flying debris. Suffice it to say that the incident caused shivers to go down the spines of everyone who saw it, even those who were a bit occupied trying to get their race cars across the finish line. It will be open season on NASCAR for a while. Men and women who don’t particularly care for automobile racing in the first place will treat this almostdisaster as if it were one. The good news is that what could’ve happened didn’t. Edwards emerged uninjured. A few fans, unlucky to be in the wrong place but lucky not to be hurt worse, suffered broken bones, welts and lacerations. There was blood on the scene but not in profusion. Disaster, far worse than declining attendance and TV ratings, was thankfully averted. Now it’s time for NASCAR officials to ensure that, next time, the crucial factor isn’t good luck. Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_ Copyright 2009 King Features Syndicate Carl Edwards flies into the catch fence just before the finish line at the conclusion of the Aaron’s 499 on April 26. (photo: Associated Press)