Gregg Satterlee: “There’s been race tracks open for twenty, thirty, forty years and I’m sure back in the day they didn’t think anything of it. You just raced. But, I guess our cars are going a little faster and things happen quicker.”
Dirt racing is currently the best racing product known to man. All forms of it. Nobody is knocking the product of the racing here.
On the dirt late model side, the race cars themselves have become safer than ever in recent years. The cockpit area tubing as well as the seat and the way the seat is mounted have all been greatly improved. In addition, there’s now a fire safety control bottle that automatically kicks on in the event of flames. Similar things can be said of multiple dirt racing divisions.
But, the safety at some of these race tracks is far from the best of anything.
The worst part is that a bulk of these deaths or severe injuries are completely avoidable with somewhat minimal cost. I’m trying to avoid calling out any one track or one incident in particular. But, the issue is really widespread and pointing fingers at a specific location isn’t really necessary. It’s only a handful that happen to have been bitten by an incident but it could happen to many.
I’ve seen catch fences that aren’t even attached. They aren’t tied down. They aren’t attached to anything. Instead, the fence is just leaning up freely against the poles. You could reach up and pull it down. Tell me, what the hell good is a fence if it’s only good enough to catch ejected tear-offs?
There’s other track layout issues…. And it’s not limited to just sprint cars, those same walls are there for late models. It’s just that sprint cars happen to be going a little faster. So, for them, injuries happen more frequently when they pancake those wall end joints aiming at the front end of their race cars.
A pit gate opening in turn one or turn three (without a gate) is probably the wildest of all places to place an opening. That means that as a car is flying down the front stretch and picking up speed, the car is also indirectly heading directly for an opening that has a perpendicular wall sticking out at them.
If your local track has a pit gate in turn two or turn four, they’re already miles ahead in terms of safety simply because the cars are going slower as they pass the gate and they’re not typically close to that wall opening at the exit of a corner. But, it goes beyond that. The walls should overlap each other as well, which prevents any wall end joints from reaching race cars.
No race track wall should completely stop a race car from moving. If there’s any walls on the race track where if you hit it, you’re going to come to an abrupt stop, that’s bad.
Overlapping walls means it’s still going to hurt when you hit the wall. But, you’re likely to be at an angle that keeps you rolling along with the wall instead of hitting something head on. Typically, if there’s walls like that at a track, they’re going to be found at the opening that separates the race track from the pit area.
When all else fails, just put in a gate.
**The photo below highlights an overlapping pit gate in turn four at Port Royal Speedway – The wall from turn three sticks out 5-10 feet further than the start of the wall in turn four. That makes it hard to hit the end joint of the turn four wall.**
What’s your ideal pit gate opening for a race track?
“No openings that you could potentially get to. I just like them when there’s a wall with a guardrail all the way around. You pull in, you shut the gate and you can’t get out of the place,” Greg Satterlee stated to RacingNews.co
“That or… You know, all the places I grew up on, there was a front straight-away wall. No wall in turns one or two. The back straight-away was open. Then, turns 3 and four was open.”
“No walls at all, other than the front straight away. That’s typically how a lot of tracks are, where I grew up. I think those are pretty safe.”
Brownstown Speedway is built fairly similar to what Satterlee is describing. There’s no walls all the way around the corners of the race track. The exception being a concrete wall on the front stretch that separates the grandstands from the race track. Another wall is on the back stretch that separates the pits from the track.
But, the pit gate at Brownstown Speedway is actually the best I’ve ever seen. There’s a wall to the left side of the chute. That wall completely stops some 100 feet from the race track. So, the cars in the staging area are protected and at the same time, there’s no perpendicular wall anywhere close to the racing surface.
“It doesn’t take much to look at a race track and see where the potential hazards are. Any embankment that a car can fly into needs to be protected with some kind of soft barrier or tires. Something that can reduce any hard impact.”
“All these race tracks have been open a long time. Probably a lot of the safety aspects haven’t been focused on. That’s something that’s constantly being looked at, more and more.”
“There’s been race tracks open for twenty, thirty, forty years and I’m sure back in the day they didn’t think anything of it. You just raced. But, I guess our cars are going a little faster and things happen quicker.”
“Tracks need to step up and put some money into these places and make them safer for us. I think our series needs to take a look at that. They need to do an evaluation when they do their schedule. If there’s any race track that seems unsafe, at all, they don’t need to host a race there,” Satterlee continues.
“We don’t need to go out there and be in harms way. We’ll just go and race somewhere it’s safe. Racing’s dangerous enough as it is, just with the high speeds and close racing. We don’t need any other additional hazards out there. Especially, when it’s something we can fix and control.”
“I just think that stuff needs to be looked at. The tracks are going to have to step up and make changes. As a series promoter or as racers we need to be proactive and just see the issues before we get to one.”
“There’s a couple unfortunate incidents with the sprint car guys this year. That’s horrible news. Nobody wants to see any of that happen. Hopefully, we can do our part and reduce the possibilities as much as possible,” Satterlee concludes.
“Something like what it is at Brownstown, I like a lot. It’s pretty safe, Mason Zeigler explains to RacingNews.co .
“I’m not real big on any openings on the front stretch or anything like that. Some of these places that have pits on the infield, you gotta have it somewhere.”
“Man, I think it’s pretty important to make sure that it overlaps itself. So, you can only come onto the race track if you’re coming from the outside. Like, you have to be going with the race track to get onto it. So, you can’t just pull straight down onto the race track.”
Places that Mason is describing are Magnolia Motor Speedway, Mansfield Motor Speedway, Golden Isles. All of those have overlapping walls.
“I know it’s hard for some of them to do that. But, I think it’s important. That way, there’s no blunt force walls you can hit.”
“If you gotta do a gate… whatever it is. Anything is better than nothing.”