Tradition. Dirt track racing honors its heritage and tradition more than any other form of motorsport. It is often hard to know if this is for the best, or if this is hindering the growth of dirt track racing. However, if nothing ever changes, we eventually make our sport obsolete. Case in point: Offenhauser Midget Engines.
These magnificent engines had a place in motorsports, but eventually held the growth of the sport hostage. The cost of a new Offy engine forced racers to look for less expensive options. As a result, racers found affordable and more powerful modern engines to power their race cars.
We want to open the discussion on traction control devices. Earlier this year we covered the benefits of Davis Technologies traction control systems. When we posted the link on our Facebook fan page, there was a lot of spirited discussion about the devices. The racers and fans were quick to take sides.
On one side are the traditionalists who think traction control is cheating and will ruin the sport. On the other side is a cadre of racers and fans who believe traction control is already popular and used by the top teams.
We’re not here to take a side in the debate. Instead, we will present a case and pose the question: “Is this better for dirt track racing or not?”
What we want you to consider is how technology gets changed in dirt track racing, and how long it takes to bring a change into the sport. Take power steering, for example. Geoff Bodine is credited by many as the person who ushered power steering into circle track racing in 1981.
Keep in mind that power steering was first commercially available on a passenger car three-decades earlier on the 1951 Chrysler Imperial under the name “Hydraguide.” Richard Petty told the LA Times in April of 1999, “Competition is much tougher today, partly because of power steering, and partly because of all that computer stuff they have.”
Petty went on to explain that, before adding this technology, only three or four drivers had a real chance of winning. After the technology was updated, there were a dozen or more drivers who could win at the highest level, according to the King.
Could the same thing be true of traction control devices?
A great case can be made for technology improvements for safety reasons. Head and neck restraints were not mandatory at the highest levels of circle track racing until the death of Dale Earnhardt. Since then, No driver has died in a NASCAR cup series event since he was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
While NASCAR was successful with its innovations, dirt tracks had more painful learning experiences to endure. Local dirt tracks fighting to keep the doors open don’t have the money to bring their safety standards up to NASCAR’s level. This becomes exacerbated when you consider more than 50,000 drivers race weekly at local tracks compared to only 120 who regularly compete weekly in the three upper-level NASCAR series.
Take Jason Leffler’s death on June 12, 2013. Leffler was wearing a head and neck restraint, which protects against frontal impacts. Dirt track cars, especially Sprint Cars, tend to flip and roll several times, causing a driver’s heads to whip side-to-side violently.
According to Medical Examiner Fredric Hellman, it was that side-to-side whipping motion that caused Leffler’s death. Full containment seats are still not required in every series or racing class at dirt tracks, but awareness has gotten better.
What if traction control devices helped prevent some of the severe crashes at dirt track events? Would it be worth allowing these devices if they had the potential to save a few lives? We’d like to see the discussion started and hear the arguments, both for and against traction control systems in dirt track race cars.
Here’s the formula: Racers crash because they get out of control. Traction control helps drivers stay in control. It stands to reason that traction control can help prevent crashes. Once insurance companies put these pieces of the puzzle together, they will either make it mandatory or offer a discount for those series who use the devices.
From what we can tell, power steering has not ruined dirt track racing. Neither has crate engines or head and neck restraints. Traction control is unlikely to damage the sport’s reputation, either.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Please leave a comment below.
To find out more about traction control systems, visit Davis Technologies online at moretraction.com.