DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — You couldn’t ignore the big storyline this past Speedweeks that this was the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. How NASCAR has evolved in the safety aspect since that fateful day has only increased Earnhardt’s legacy off the track. It’s the moment that NASCAR had finally taken safety seriously.
From the HANS device, to the SAFER barriers to the innovations to the helmets, the seats, the buckles and everything else inside of a race car, Earnhardt’s death sparked a major safety change in the sport. They went on a completely different trajectory and it’s now saved countless lives.
Just took to Sunday’s race as a prime example. We saw two huge crashes. One on Lap 13 and the other on the final lap. Compare those crashes to Earnhardt’s once in 2001, all coincidentally enough coming in the third turn of the Daytona International Speedway, and you’d be hard pressed to say that no one in the two frightening crashes this past weekend was killed while the one in 2001 saw one of the largest impacts of this sport taken away.
All those drivers collected this past weekend can thank Earnhardt for moving NASCAR in this vastly needed direction 20 years ago. They can thank NASCAR for taking this very seriously over the last two decades now and for staying on the forefront of safety. They can be happy that they’re all back home with their families and able to come back down next weekend to race on the road course with barely a bruise to remember.
NASCAR has evolved to a safe sport, or as safe as one could be with racing motor vehicles at speeds near 200 mph and hitting walls. These incidents this past weekend is just another reason that we should pause to reflect and remember Earnhardt’s lasting impact on this sport in the safety initaitives.