Typically, Sprint Cup drivers talk about the great danger in the “Big One,” a multi-car wreck during restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega super speedways.
But Brad Keselowski got an ugly reminder Tuesday that the other extreme of the NASCAR schedule – road courses – can be just as perilous.
Keselowski was testing at Watkins Glen, where the Sprint Cup series goes next weekend after Sunday’s race at Pocono. Keselowski’s rear brakes failed, causing his front brakes to lock up, and he ended up in a terrifying crash through a tire barrier.
Keselowski says the angles of crashes at road courses (Sonoma being the other one on the Sprint Cup schedule), combined with the lack of containment at these layouts, create a unique risk.
Odds are if 100 people take that hit, a couple of them aren’t going to be standing here. That’s pretty safe to say.
NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, on a practice crash at Watkins Glen’s road course
“In general, I’m not comfortable with tracks that have run-offs that lead to very harsh angles,” Keselowski said Friday before practice and qualifying for Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400. “That’s certainly a situation that that track has and always had it.
“Road courses remain the most dangerous tracks in motorsports for a good reason – because of that. But we know that going in. Someplace has to be the safest and someplace has to be the most dangerous. It’s funny; we talk about (the risks at) Daytona and Talladega. They don’t ever worry me as much as these road courses do.”
Keselowski says he appreciates that road courses tend to run numerous racing series and so how the courses are set up is a function of compromise.
Keselowski tweeted out video of the crash and a photo of the misshapen steering wheel that collided into his chest. He walked away from the crash shaken up, but not seriously hurt.
“The steering column is probably the weakest link,” among parts that have to absorb energy in a crash, Keselowski said. “That continues to be a pretty big issue when the steering wheel comes up in your face and can do a lot of damage to your helmet and your head. I got lucky that I didn’t get too much of it.”
Keselowski confirmed that his rear brake line wasn’t installed properly and broke.
“There are only so many of those hits that are going to happen before somebody gets killed. I know that,” Keselowski said. “It’s not something I’m comfortable with. Odds are if 100 people take that hit, a couple of them aren’t going to be standing here. That’s pretty safe to say.”
Fellow driver Matt Kenseth backed up Keselowski’s concern in a later interview Friday.
“They have done a lot of things to try to make it safer, but we’ve seen some terrible wrecks there,” Kenseth said of Watkins Glen. “They do react, and try to make it as safe as possible, but there are just a lot of weird angles there. And you’re going really, really fast for a road course.”
Safer, but heavier, cars the trend
Keselowski said that while Sprint Cup’s recent car adjustments are a net plus, he wonders if there are alternatives to adding more weight to the cars.
“It’s one of those dorky engineering formulas where you add more mass to something to make it safer, but then when you hit something else, you hit it harder,” Keselowski said.
“We’re safer in the sense that the cars are bigger with more steel – it’s like a tank. But when two tanks run into each other, it’s still two tanks running into each other. You lose the efficiencies there.”
A very different set of skills
Daniel Hemric, who is third in driver standings for the Camping World Truck Series, isn’t yet close to the most accomplished athlete in his extended family. His uncle, Dickie Hemric, was a star basketball player at Wake Forest, who went on to play for the Boston Celtics.
A 6-6 power forward, Dickie Hemric set records for scoring and rebounding in the ACC, then played three seasons with the Celtics.
So why didn’t Daniel Hemric pursue basketball? “I don’t think my height allowed for it,” said the younger Hemric, who drives for Keselowski’s race team.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell