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It’s amazing to think of what drag racing has accomplished in the world of safety in the last few decades. Without this evolution, we might still be racing front engine dragsters with no parachutes. Technology has come a long way since those days, and it continues to change and improve. I guess that makes me happy that I entered the sport after the major advances took place. I get to benefit from all that hard work that went into making these cars the safest they can be. But just because these rules are there doesn’t mean they’re easy to follow, or that people don’t try to get around them from time to time.
Since the Magnum was in need of some upgrades this year, and we knew that it would be going too fast to drive without a rollbar, we decided to install one for the upcoming season. (Check back here in a few months to see the full detailed install). Working on the car and spending some time with the developers of the rollbar really got me thinking about the importance of safety in racing. There are a few things I’ve learned in the last little while about how many people are actually running illegal rollbars, seat belts and other important components and don’t even know it. For example, did you know that the standard clevis style swing out bar is in fact illegal according to NHRA rules and SFI standards? I have a feeling that most racers with this type of bar don’t even realize they are running illegal equipment. And then there’s the other group of racers who pride themselves on getting past tech with illegal or missing safety features on their car because they’re too unwilling to update their parts. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is really short sighted and sets you back as a competitor in a race environment. You may think you’re pulling one over on a tech inspector when he or she passes you with illegal specs, but you’re really just hurting yourself. I don’t want to seem like a Debbie Downer rule stickler here, but really, the rules are there for a reason. And that reason is usually that in the past someone died or was seriously injured racing without that piece of equipment.
I hear a lot of complaints about how strict this year’s rulebook is, but the rules really are there to prevent accidents and personal harm so that we can all keep racing. This kind of “beat the odds” mentality exists the same in the ones who think they can have another beer and be fine and then get a DUI or cause an accident. But nonchalance doesn’t really exist in the world of professional racing. Do you think that Allen Johnson only kind of cares whether his Pro Stock car is safe or not? I doubt it. You wouldn’t jump out of an airplane with loose strings and a hole in your parachute, so why go down the track with a halfway decent rollcage? They both seem pretty foolish to me.
The idea of safety in racecars has been evolving for decades and I’m thankful for that. It’s those improvements that have kept us safe in this sport. Yes, maybe it does cost more money to get a new helmet and SFI padding on your rollbar. But, as they say, it’s a small price to pay. Driving on the track is a privilege, and none of us want it taken away by one careless mistake.