It’s on the back of every ticket to a racing event: “Motorsport is dangerous.”
That fact was no more apparent early in Sunday’s red-flagged Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway when Conor Daly lost downforce on his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda in Turn 4 and spun directly into Josef Newgarden’s No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.
The impact can only be described as scary, with Daly’s car knifing into Newgarden’s No. 21 on Lap 42 and pushing both hard into the SAFER Barrier on the outside wall.
The replay showed one of Daly’s wheels slamming into the side of the No. 21’s cockpit inches from the driver’s head before the car rolled onto its side and the top side hit the wall with Newgarden’s helmet seemingly exposed.
There’s no doubt that everyone held their breath as the cars slid for what seemed to be forever before they came to rest along the frontstretch. When they finally stopped moving, shock transformed into concern as all watching hoped that both drivers were not badly hurt.
After seeing such a spectacular crash, it may seem amazing to some that Newgarden’s injuries were limited to a fractured right collarbone and a bone in his right hand, while Daly walked away from the accident unharmed.
But if you think it’s luck that kept the drivers safe, you’d be wrong. It was a long history of endless effort by the Verizon IndyCar Series to improve safety, from the development and introduction of the SAFER Barrier designed to absorb energy in accidents to the design of the Dallara IR-12 chassis and its safety cell that protects the driver.
In addition, the Verizon IndyCar Series also has a dedicated Holmatro Safety Team that attends every race and ensures that all the drivers get top-notch care when something goes wrong.
It all combined to see Newgarden released from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas just 24 hours after his accident.
"The car held up great and the response from the safety team was amazing,” Newgarden said.
“I'm banged up a little bit, but I'm generally OK. That's all thanks to INDYCAR and all the work everyone within the series does.”
And progress continues, with new safety measures being added to the Dallara chassis since it was introduced four years ago, including greater side impact protection in 2014, mandatory wishbone pads in 2015, and high-tensile Zylon tethers on aerodynamic components in 2016.
A focus on head protection will continue after Newgarden’s accident with the Verizon IndyCar Series saw the roll hoop on the No. 21 car compromised when it dug into the SAFER Barrier.
The Verizon IndyCar Series has been investigating the best way to bring substantial improvements to cockpit protection before and since the fatal accident involving Justin Wilson, who was hit on the helmet by debris at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
Canopies, halos and windscreens have all come under discussion in Indy cars as well as Formula One. While the urgency to increase driver safety is always paramount, developing the most effective means of protection that does not impair driver vision is just as important.
"We're not going to rush it," Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, told Racer.com. "We're gathering as much information as possible and we've been working on it for over a year. … We're still trying to figure out our best plan in this evolution of safety.”