The Glen again looking at safety

While the crushed fenders and bent frames of David Reutimann’s

Toyota and David Ragan’s Ford have long since been towed away,

their stunning wreck on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race

at Watkins Glen International is still fresh on the minds of track

officials as they contemplate safety changes.

”We’re all looking at it,” WGI president Michael Printup said

Wednesday. ”I’m not an engineer. But if you look at the give on

the safer rail (the steel Armco barrier that lines much of the

2.45-mile circuit), that safer rail gave a lot more than a Safer

barrier does. Estimations are that it gave 3-4 feet. You’ve got to

look at that.”

Printup said he hasn’t had his annual postrace meeting with

NASCAR.

The Aug. 15 race won by Australian Marcos Ambrose ended under

caution as Reutimann and Ragan crashed violently. Boris Said

clipped the back of Ragan coming out of the 90-degree first turn,

sending Ragan hard into the steel barrier just off the left side of

the track.

Ragan’s car ricocheted back across the asphalt, slamming into

Reutimann as both cars smashed violently into the barrier lining

the other side. Reutimann’s Toyota then spun around upside down and

catapulted back across the track, hitting the barrier again before

coming to rest upright just behind Ragan, who also had spun back

across the track and taken another hit.

Both drivers were treated and released at the track after

climbing from their cars and limping gingerly away from the

crash.

The Armco barrier curves toward the track from the back of the

extensive runoff area off the first turn and ends only a few feet

from the left side of the racing surface at a paved crossover where

tractor trailer trucks enter the facility. That leaves little

margin for error when cars are pushed off the asphalt.

Ragan hit the end of that section of rail first when the

chain-reaction wreck began and suggested that ”might not be the

right place for that.”

”I think he’s got a real valid point,” Printup said. ”I

promised him we’d take a look at that. On a road course, things

change, as we just found out, when you get tapped by another

driver.”

Watkins Glen International made several safety upgrades in the

aftermath of violent crashes in consecutive Cup races.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Sam Hornish, Jr., were

involved in a bone-jarring, six-car collision in 2009. The previous

year, a multi-car pileup occurred coming out of Turn 11 at the top

of the front straightaway, when the cars are usually at full

throttle. Pieces of David Gilliland’s car flew through the air,

Hornish slammed the sand-filled barriers at the entrance to pit

road, and Bobby Labonte limped away as Gordon barely made it

through. That race was halted for 43 minutes.

Since then, WGI has installed Safer barriers in key sections,

paved gravel traps to form extended runoff areas, and pushed

sections of the guard rail system further from the racing

surface.

Before last week’s race at Michigan, Gordon said it might be

time to take another look at The Glen.

”We’ve seen now more than one or more than two occasions where

cars have gotten into that outside wall,” Gordon said. ”And while

the wall did its job in absorbing the impact, to me the way it shot

the car back out there is absolutely something that this day and

age, we’re smart enough to know that we can’t have that.”

It’s been 20 years since J.D. McDuffie was killed in a crash

during the Cup race at Watkins Glen. McDuffie lost a wheel exiting

what then was the troublesome fifth turn, a sweeping right-hander

dubbed the Carousel turn at the top of the high-speed esses, and

slid off-course, slamming a tire barrier and flipping upside

down.

The track then added the chicane, or Inner Loop, before that

turn to slow the cars, which reach speeds exceeding 170 mph through

the esses.

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