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Tuesday, July 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Auto racing notes: Push for softer walls saved driver

James Hinchcliffe needed surgery to stop massive bleeding after this crash on Monday. SAFER barriers are said to have saved his life. (Associated Press)
James Hinchcliffe needed surgery to stop massive bleeding after this crash on Monday. SAFER barriers are said to have saved his life. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

When James Hinchcliffe slammed into a wall at more than 220 mph, he hit an energy-absorbing barrier that likely saved his life. One of auto racing’s most important safety developments, its origins began at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Tony George.

George watched replays of Hinchcliffe’s accident and came to only one conclusion.

“That would have been just like Gordon Smiley if he had not hit a SAFER barrier,” said George, referring to the fatal 1982 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Smiley was killed instantly when his car hit the Turn 3 wall and his body tumbled hundreds of feet across the track.

Hinchcliffe wrecked Monday in almost the same spot as Smiley hit, only the concrete wall is now protected with a steel and foam barrier. His injuries were from a piece of the suspension breaking off and piercing his leg, rather than the trauma of an impact that registered at 125 Gs.

“He wouldn’t be alive if not for the SAFER barrier,” 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan said. “I really believe that.”

Added Hinchcliffe team owner Sam Schmidt, who is a quadriplegic because of a 2000 crash at Walt Disney World Speedway: “I think that’s the hardest impact we’ve seen here … and, you know, to literally, walk away with no heart, no chest, no spinal cord, no bone breakage – it’s pretty unbelievable.”

SAFER barriers have been spotlighted following NASCAR driver Kyle Busch’s crash into a concrete wall at Daytona in February. Busch broke his right leg and left foot, and returned to competition last weekend after missing 11 races.

Immediately after his accident, Daytona officials vowed to install additional SAFER barriers around the entire facility, and NASCAR began an inspection of all its national race tracks. Most will be installing additional soft walls by the end of the year.

NASCAR is often credited for the walls, but the series actually had a small role in their development and only after George’s project was almost complete.

Briscoe replaces Hinchcliffe

Ryan Briscoe will replace the injured Hinchcliffe in the Indianapolis 500.

Briscoe arrived in Indianapolis, just in time to get fitted for the car, and headed onto the track for the first time for a familiarization session. The former Indy 500 pole winner will practice in traffic for the first time today.

Boston to host IndyCar race

IndyCar racing is coming to Boston.

The Grand Prix of Boston is planned for Labor Day weekend in 2016. A route has been planned for the South Boston waterfront, where it would make a loop through public streets. The tentative route has 11 turns over 2.25 miles.

Kenseth tops qualifying

Matt Kenseth won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Concord, North Carolina. Kenseth turned a lap at 194.252 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the third round of NASCAR’s knockout qualifying format for his second pole of the Sprint Cup season. Joey Logano will start alongside Kenseth on the front row Sunday night in the longest Sprint Cup race of the year. It is Logano’s best qualifying effort at Charlotte. Carl Edwards was third, followed by Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin. Defending champion Johnson, a four-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600, qualified 13th. Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick will start eighth.

Jimmie Johnson said he was “shocked” to learn NASCAR was looking into potential infractions by his No. 48 team for altering the car’s side skirts following Saturday night’s All-Star race.

NASCAR competition officials reviewed the tape and determined Johnson’s crew did not make an unapproved adjustment during a late pit stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson’s team was issued a warning by the sport’s governing body but no punishment was levied. Johnson said NASCAR “calmed down” after reviewing video.

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