Kansas City Strip

Race relations: Stann Tate, spokesman for the Kansas Speedway, is in no mood to discuss his sport’s gratuitous bloodshed. While blowing a $225 million wad to build the redneck convention center in western Wyandotte County, developers forgot to send a few bucks to Cellofoam, the Georgia-based company that makes “soft walls” — racing barriers that afford pro racers even better protection than is enjoyed by dirt-track racers, who crash into hay bales. Dale Earnhardt, you can’t help but know, martyred himself February 17, crashing into the Daytona Speedway’s concrete wall, where Ken Schrader of Fenton, Missouri, peeled Earnhardt’s car off the wall and shoved it into the infield.

“What we have up here now are concrete walls,” Tate says, “because that’s what the [NASCAR] specifications require.”

Well, maybe not, says Tate’s boss, David Talley, top spokesman for the International Speedway Corp. “I can guarantee you if we thought that something would save lives, we would put it in place. I know that studies continue at all of our tracks.” The research has persuaded International to install tire stacks along New York’s Watkins Glen road-style track, Talley admits. Average race speeds on road tracks are about twenty miles per hour less than on ovals: 90 versus 112. Yet NASCAR and other governing bodies are loath to give up the blood-curdling danger of their oval tracks.

Race fans love the exhibition of danger, but they apparently hate the gore. New Hampshire race fans shrieked last summer when the Concord Monitor showed Kenny Irwin‘s dead, stretcher-borne body. Even after Irwin and another hero, Adam Petty, had busted their skulls on the same turn, race fans couldn’t stomach seeing blood. NASCAR coddles the squeamish: Officials let a photographer from the paper ride along at one race, but “they tried to take the photographer’s film when it became clear he had images of an accident,” says Monitor editor Mark Travis.

When a car crashes on Wyandotte County’s track, expect two emergency crews to respond. One will take care of the driver. The other will protect NASCAR’s image, shooing away photographers and covering up any sign of suffering with a blue tarp.

Categories: News