By Steve Woodhouse Editor
The Journal Express
---- — A group of representatives from other Sprint Car race tracks met in Dyer-Hudson on Thursday to discuss safety measures. Media were asked to leave during the meeting, but Knoxville Raceway Race Director John McCoy said the heart of the discussion was the importance of fan and driver safety. McCoy reported that some changes to vehicle assembly, to improve safety, were proposed to the other race tracks. The proposes were accepted.
McCoy pointed out last week that safety in racing, especially at Knoxville, has come a long way over the years. One Sprint Car driver, Jeff Swindell, has been working on new safety gear himself.
Swindell, who has been driving race cars since 1978, in his column for the August 2013 “Sprint Car and Midget” magazine, spelled out some safety measures that he is trying in his own car to protect himself.
Swindell told the Journal-Express that he was inspired to begin working on safety improvements six years ago when his friend and fellow driver, Josh Howard, was paralyzed in a racing accident. In this case, the car had no damage. Howard was thrown from the vehicle during the crash and his C4 and C5 vertebrae were damaged.
This led Swindell to develop a neck collar, which he wears every race. The next step involved seat mounting.
Swindell said the goal of his new system, along with protecting drivers, would be to find a way in which safety crews would only have to undo four bolts to remove a driver from a Sprint Car. The back would be high enough that the entire seat could be removed, with the driver still seated, in one pull if the medical staff fear a neck of spinal injury has occurred.
Another key to driver safety involves the seat belt. Swindell believes too many drivers rely too much on holes, in the back of the seat, which the shoulder belt runs through. On several drivers’ seats in the pits at the Nationals, the holes are large. According to Swindell, this could make the belts too loose, and subject to tear or breakage. When that happens, in an accident, the driver could be set loose inside the car.
Swindell’s design allows belts to be set to the perfect height for every seat in any car. He has spoken to chassis manufacturers and some are getting behind it. He credits Maxim Chassis for being the most willing to work in this safety feature. In his opinion, adopting these safety features will actually reduce costs for chassis manufacturers.
The seat belt system he proposes has seven points. It includes improvements to the lap belt, which would tighten from two inches to three inches. Swindell said the more secure a driver’s pelvis is, the more secure every other body part will be inside the car.
Swindell and others have indicated that drivers are sometimes reluctant to adopt to new safety techniques. However, according to Swindell, “there’s no reason” for drivers to not continue to seek safety improvements. He is constantly trying to evolve and improve the ideas he has already discussed.
Costs may be cheaper for teams as well if Swindell’s seat and seatbelt system become the standard. Currently, when rescue crews have to remove a driver they fear has a spinal injury, the chassis is cut to remove him safely. Swindell’s system puts an end to this costly action.
Swindell said he is always thinking about safety improvements. He is not making any money from his proposals. For now, he is trying to get manufacturers to see the decreased costs and improved safety his designs bring to the sport.