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Stewart’s accident needs to create safety improvements

Aug 6, 2013, 1:15 PM EDT

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The hand-wringing over Tony Stewart racing sprint cars, and getting injured, is already underway.

Suddenly hundreds of armchair experts are saying something to the degree of, “Why is he racing a sprint car? Shouldn’t he be more concerned with his NASCAR commitments?”

Fact is, “Smoke” is the only person qualified to comment about what Smoke wants to do, and the only person who can give him the green light on what he chooses to do.

He exemplifies the term “racer” because he’s keen on running as many different types of cars, on so many tracks in so many cities. He’s his own boss; he races anytime, anywhere at his own risk and for his own enjoyment. He’s the closest modern day thing to his hero, A.J. Foyt, and just like Foyt, he runs the No. 14.

And if his sponsors had a problem with it, they wouldn’t be sponsoring him. Or allowing him to race in these events. Period. End of story.

The more pressing issue, and with dirt racing heavily in the national motorsports news in 2013, is what kind of safety upgrades tracks or sprint car series need to make to prevent this onslaught of serious injuries or worse this year.

Jason Leffler, one of Stewart’s friends and a high-profile name, was killed in June; an improved headrest may have saved his life.  Kramer Williamson died Sunday from injuries sustained in a crash in Pennsylvania, and Josh Burton died a couple weeks before Leffler from injuries sustained in a crash in Indiana. Per a USA Today report, there have been other deaths in Nevada (late May, two drivers) and California (two people killed after a car crashed on pit road, leaving a track).

Track themselves largely lack the SAFER barriers. Roll cages and seats can be improved. The HANS device or other head-and-neck support systems should be mandated if they aren’t already. There’s a lack of unity in the regulations across several series.

Dirt racing had its national breakout night a couple weeks ago with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ race at Eldora Speedway, a track Stewart owns, in Rossburg, Ohio. But now, the focus should shift to improving the standards at the tracks, cars and drivers, and not questioning who chooses to race there.

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