NASCAR officials unveiled the most anticipated accident report in racing history Tuesday. More than 50 experts looked into the wreck that killed Dale Earnhardt. In response to their work, NASCAR president Mike Helton announced five major reforms to take effect next season.
Winston Cup teams will install "black boxes" in race cars, similar to those used in airplanes, to study accidents. NASCAR will also study improving seat belt systems. It will hire a chief investigator to look into any future accidents; name a chief medical officer to decide if drivers are able to drive; and consider re-designing race cars to lessen the effect of high speed impacts.
One Montgomery driver hoping to make the jump to the big leagues soon believes today's report is a step in the right direction. Up and coming driver Jim Walker took special interest in the NASCAR announcement. Walker has tested at Talladega at 186 miles per hour and he knows the same danger Dale Earnhardt did.
"You can feel the vacuum pulling you close to the wall," Walker explains, "and you realize at Talladega, it's not on TV any more. It's me in the car, it's me that's going to hit the wall and feel the blunt."
Walker tried an early version of the head restraint device some say may have helped Earnhardt. He tossed it aside, then had second thoughts. "It's just so cumbersome, cause I'm used to short track racing. Then I realized I could have worn it and it (would) never hinder me," he said.
That change of heart is why Walker welcomes the report. The result from the announcement represents a big change for NASCAR. Stock car racing's dominant sanctioning body has never mandated any safety device, from using a safety belt to wearing a helmet. So, as things stand now, if you wanted to, you could go racing in a business suit and wingtips.
Walker says he knows it will be a while before NASCAR's safety changes trickle down to the minor leagues. But he says those changes, including putting black boxes into cars, will eventually benefit people like him.
Walker in particular is looking forward the to technical data. "You know close to what happened...but a black box will tell you what happened inside the car." That, Walker says, will make accepting risk inside a race car a lot easier for drivers like him.