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October 18th, 2011
Paul Tracy hopes that Dan Wheldon’s tragic death will act as a catalyst for IndyCar chiefs to lift safety levels another notch, as he admits he is considering retiring after the events of the weekend.
The Canadian was one of 15 drivers caught up in a high-speed crash at the Las Vegas Motorsport Speedway, which resulted in Wheldon dying from head injuries sustained after he hit the catch fencing.
Tracy says the shocking events have left him contemplating whether or not to continue racing, while he believes the safety focus should now revolve around the design of fencing at ovals.
In an interview with American network CNN, Tracy said: “I have had a long career, I’ve been racing 20 years now in Indycars, and my wife said to me last night, ‘you have enough trophies and have enough money, do we need to do this any more?’ After seeing one of your friends die and knowing the family, that is the question mark I have to answer for myself.
“Dan’s legacy is as a champion, an Indy 500 champion twice. This is a huge tragedy for IndyCar but I hope that out of this tragedy comes some good in terms of improving more in safety, like when Greg Moore died and Dale Earnhardt Senior, and now Dan Wheldon. The innovations that come out from that in terms of improving driver safety need to be kicked up another notch. We hope that is what will happen.”
With Wheldon’s car having struck the catch fencing, Tracy thinks that racing chiefs should investigate whether or not new designs can be made in this area.
“I think there can be improvement made in the catch fencing,” he said. “There has been so much improvement done with the safer walls, and heads and neck restraint systems, and the seats and the cars have got safer and safer.
“But what has really stayed the same is the catch fencing along the walls. That has stayed the same over the past 100 years, and my thoughts are, why can’t we have some kind of ballistic safety glass, or Plexiglas or safety glass that will still allow the fans to see the race track but will keep the cars from getting tangled in the catch fencing like a spider web? Once the cars get in there it just starts ripping the cars apart. So maybe that is the next thing that needs to happen in terms of safety for race events.”
Although questions have been raised about the wisdom of racing 34 cars at the Las Vegas venue, Tracy does not believe the choice of venue was to blame for the crash.
“It is a world class facility, and it is no different to any other racing track around the world,” he said.
“It has the same type of wall and fencing system as any other race track. It is just a factor you have a lot of cars racing in close quarters. The IndyCars now, they spec the cars to where they want the cars to run a bit more in the pack like NASCAR, and these cars are not designed to run and bang wheels with each other at 220mph. Our wheels are exposed, NASCAR are closed body cars like street cars, so once you have two cars touch each other, you don’t have any control of what can happen.
“We need to look at what the future is. We have a new car coming in 2012 which we will hope will stop cars from interlocking wheels. They have closed in the wheels and built bodywork around the wheels, but my concern is that now the fencing is the problem with motor sport.
“You see stockcars flying and get in the air and go backwards, and when they get into the fencing the cars get ripped apart. It is very much the same for IndyCar. My thoughts are the cars right now are pretty safe but the next thing needs to be done to the fencing.”
Tracy says he will decide over the next few days what his future is in the sport, with family members keen for him to walk away from it after Wheldon’s death.
“It is something I need to think about. My wife wants me to retire; my mum and dad have called out to me and said, ‘hey you’ve raced for 20 years.’ I need a couple of days to digest.
“I have only been racing the past three or four years part time. I have been there, seen it all, done it all, and what I saw on Sunday was not a great thing.
“It is the first time I’ve seen that first hand in my career and [it is] not the sort of thing I want to see again, but ultimately as a race driver you know what the risks are when you go out there. Mario Andretti said to the drivers yesterday, ‘if you think that this business is safe then you are in the wrong sport.’
“We know what the risks are, we know there is danger, we are all thrill seekers at heart, we all take risks on the race track and this sport is not for everybody.”
Medical chiefs in Las Vegas have promised to work with IndyCar officials to help see if lessons can be learned from the crash.
Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy told the Associated Press: “We’ll be working with family and IndyCar officials and the attending physicians to fully review the case in an effort to improve safety for drivers.”
Ryan Briscoe suggests that in the future closed cockpits should be considered to help improve safety.
Writing on Twitter he said: “I’d like to see future IndyCar / Open wheelers with closed cockpits one day, like modern Le Mans LMP1 cars have today.”