Skinner's Lowe's Crash is a call for all tracks to take action

                                              May 2009                              Dale Wilkerson

Last Friday night, during the running of the Camping World Truck series race at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the fans in attendance held their collective breath, as Mike Skinner’s truck floated dangerously close to the catch fence.

                As the field took the green flag on a restart after a caution period, one truck spun in front of most of the field, Skinner cut left to avoid hitting another truck and spun in the infield. As Skinner fought for control, he skidded back on to the track, and was hit in the right side just before slamming the outside wall head on. The impact was with such force the truck came off the ground, rolled in mid-air, then slammed back down on to the asphalt, slidding to a stop about 100 yards down track.

                Skinner crawled from his mangled truck unhurt and the race was re-flagged for about 20 minutes, as safety crews repaired the safer barrier due to the impact.

                Just last month, Carl Edwards tore down a section of fence in a spectacular, last lap crash during the Aarron’s 499 at Talladega, Alabama. The fence, and the steel cables mounted behind it did what they were intended to do, by throwing Edwards’ car back onto the racing surface.

                There were a handful of injuries at Talladega, the most serious of which was a broken jaw, to the fans where the car hit the fence. Those injuries were from debris, mostly from the race car.

                Last Friday, if Skinner’s truck had been hit like Edwards car was by Ryan Newman at Talladega, would the Lowe’s Motor Speedway catch fence had held up to the stress? During last year’s Coke 600, Jeff Gordon’s car also went up in the air after an impact with the front stretch wall, and if he had been hit while his car was airborne, it could have tested the catch fence as well.

                Whenever folks talk about racecars getting into the catch fence, most mention just two incidents. The most recent with Carl Edwards at Talladega and the Bobby Allison crash, at Talladega in 1987, but there have been others.

At Daytona Richard Petty tore down a huge section of fence in the 1988 Daytona 500, and don’t forget Geoff Bodine’s horrifying truck series crash in 2000. Mike Bliss, in a 1996 truck race at Bristol tore down a huge section of fence along the front stretch. Neil Bonnet went into the fence at Talladega in 1993. That same race Jimmy Horton’s car ‘left the ballpark’ as he soared over the turn one wall. A few years later, Ricky Craven tested those cables, as his car flipped into them during the 1996 spring Talladega race. The cables worked then, as they did with the Bodine and Edwards’ crash.

The steel cables have worked at Talladega and Daytona, but have all the tracks upgraded? Most folks wouldn’t think a race car, or truck, would tear down the fence at Bristol, but it has happened. Before 1987, nobody thought a car would hit the fence at Talladega either, but Bobby Allison’s Buick did just that.

Many tracks have re-worked the seating arrangements, raising the front rows by several feet. This was for both safety as well as comfort for the race fans.  After seeing Mike Skinner’s truck catching air at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway, I wonder if the track operators and NASCAR officials will look to strengthen the catch fences at all tracks.

In 1987, it was thought if the cars were slowed down at Daytona and Talladega, nobody would get into the fence, but Petty’s 1988 crash proved otherwise.  Just like with the safer barriers, racecars will do the unexpected when a driver loses control, cars will strike walls at angles never imagined, cars will take flight when hitting those walls sometimes and the answer is not always roof-flaps to keep those cars on the track.

Whether the track in question is a short track or a super-speedway, the catch fences should be ready for any impact, from any angle, because in the world of stock racing there is just one thing that is predictable, and it can happen every week; the unpredictable.


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