The day started like any other day watching the Daytona 500. Little did I know that before the day was over how my life would change. They were on the last lap going into turns three and four with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip fighting for the lead. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was running third. Dale Sr. lost control of his car and hit the wall. It looked like a wreck that we had seen many times before, but this would be a life changer. Dale Sr.’s car coasted into the infield.
The car just sat there with no movement. Something was wrong, really wrong. Later that day
Nascar announced that Dale Sr. had died due to the crash earlier in the day. This day forward racing would never be the same. There were many reasons for Dale Sr.’s death and Nascar set to making many safety changes soon after.
The first change was to the helmets that drivers wore. There were to be no more open face helmets. Second came the Hanz device. This device is a neck restraint that attaches to the helmet and the seat to prevent whiplash. Dale Sr. suffered a broken neck in his wreck and Nascar did not want this to happen to another driver. Nascar also implemented safety belt checks. This would also prevent further spinal injury. More safety measures took place but it did take longer to implement them.
Safer barriers were added to all of the tracks in years to come. These barriers were made to absorb the impact of a car when they get hit. This slows the car down and decreases the possibility of injury to the driver. Changes were made to the cars as well. Aerodynamics were changed. Roof flaps were added to be able to slow a car down after a crash and to help keep it upright. Extra roll bars were added to the driver’s side doors to protect the driver during an impact as well as to the front of the car. Dale Sr.’s death not only affected Nascar racing but all types of racing.
I was racing dirt track cars at that time and safety changes were made to these cars as well. I had to add more roll bars to my own car for safety. My helmet had to be changed as well as the seatbelts. All of these changes were for safety just like Nascar. The changes were hard to adjust to, but I grew to accept them. They became part of the normal day to day equipment that we used. I do not believe that the changes would have been made to even dirt track racing if it had not been for the death of a legend like Dale Sr. I will never forget that fateful…