by Mike Ruefer
Davenport, IA - I have to say that most years the news that comes out during the off season of racing doesn’t excite me much. Of course there are the driver changes that go back and forth with all looking for the next Hot Rod to drive. There is track, series and other tid of bits of rumors that can make the conversations lively during the cold winters. Then it all seems too real that the next racing season is around the corner with the release of event schedules. Over time the reality is that not much changes on the outside looking in. Racing is as it always has been. The names change and that’s about it.
Today I’m much more interested in learning about racing from the inside looking out. I find the technology of the cars to be very interesting and I’m trying to learn. The business of racing is a huge industry and complex. The politics and soap operas that take place are not for the faint of heart. Maybe this is why I still like it so much. It’s like a never ending story that can rival the best made for TV drama and we get to watch it play out live each and every race day. Every series, track and region of the country has their own Emmy Award winner.
Rule changes for most part in racing are one of those inside looking out facts that are usually designed to level the competitive playing field. In the everyone is equal and lets all be fair and play by the same rules world, this happens. Creativity and ingenuity changes that can only be done by a few, either because they are just plain smarter or maybe have deeper financial pockets is written out of the rule book. It’s just the way it works in all forms of racing. It’s all good till the cars all become so equal that the racing product becomes boring to watch and then at some point fans quit watching because their asleep.
On November 5, 2016 ,rule changes came out from the Unified Dirt Late Model Council and adopted by the major sanctioning organizations that excited me beyond belief. The rule changes were not about speed and power but all about safety. Finally I thought the sport of Dirt Late Model racing is spending the time to unify around the most important factor on the track and that’s the safety of our drivers and everyone involved.
I think this way because I have spent most of my working career in the safety profession helping others with the identification of risk and implementing corrective measures. Today I spend a lot time working with organizations on safety culture that can improve their operational performance. Safety is a big part of my life and to see the sport I love identifying this area for improvement is something I can get behind and all of us in the sport should to.
The safety rules and mandates for change that will go into effect in 2017 will not be easy. Change is never easy with anything. There will be those that say that it will cost too much and drive them out of racing. Or I’ve never had a problem before why do I need to change? The problem is serious injuries from crashes happen in an instant and the only thing you might have to save your life is your safety equipment. The fire suppression system, FIA/FT3 Fuel Cell, Electrical system and all their components should all be as vital to our race car as any engine, shock or tire.
The Personal Protective Equipment that we have inside the cockpit is the last line of defense. SFI rated suits, gloves, shoes, Snell rated helmets and SFI rated head neck restraint all used while buckled in with a SFI rated harness to our SFI rated full containment seat does not limit us from injury. It reduces the consequences of crashes and the potential severity of injury. In many cases we can still get hurt in a crash but hopefully we go on to race another day.
I have many thoughts, ideas and concerns with where these new safety rules are going but overall it is very positive for the sport of dirt late model racing and I hope that all organizations that sanction dirt late models adopt the rules. Overtime these rules need to be incorporated to all other classes of cars. It’s the right thing to do.
Now with this all said there has to be accountability in the system for the rules to work. Having rules and not enforcing them is no better than not having the rules at all. The sanctioning bodies will have to inspect the cars and drivers and make them have the safety systems and equipment in place. I’d like to see the day when pre-race inspection is about safety and making sure the equipment is all there and installed in the approved method. Before entering the track all drivers should be inspected for gloves, helmet with head neck restraint attachment at a minimum. Post-race could then be all about the car weight, tires, deck height, width, spoiler and anything else the tape measure is used for. This would be the paradigm shift that would say that safety is more important than speed. We all win when the race is over and we go home to our family, friends and ultimately the next race.
The bottom line with safety is that the true tragedy is when accidents happen and nothing is done to prevent the likely hood of it happening again. In racing, wrecks and crashes are going to happen. As in life people make errors and so do drivers all in an effort to go fast and win. So when the crash happens we need to reduce the consequences of serious injury potential and totally eliminate death. These new rules are only the beginning of what can become a total safety system at dirt tracks across the country. I applaud the work that the Unified Dirt Late Model Council has done so far and I look forward to its future outcomes. Nothing is more important than the safety of our drivers and all of us who call a dirt track our home away from home.