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Minter: Final Words May Have Been Poole’s Best

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 29 2009
The cars run mighty close to the people at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The cars run mighty close to the people at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

The last time David Poole sat in a press box was at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this year. There, the assembled group of reporters sat behind laptop computers and wrote about a race finish that saw Carl Edwards’ car fly into the catch fence, with strewn parts injuring seven, including one young lady who was left bloodied by a projectile that struck her in the jaw.

Poole, the veteran writer for the Charlotte Observer, was unusually worked up over the situation at Talladega. In his writing, including in his final piece a couple of days later, he called for serious changes even as NASCAR officials kept pointing out that the track’s fences did their job and that no major changes to the track were warranted.

Here are Poole’s final four paragraphs, which have been repeated often but are worth consideration one more time:

“All I want is for someone to tell me what’s acceptable. We apparently established Sunday that seven fans being injured – one spent the night in a hospital with a broken jaw – is OK.

“It seems we’ve decided we can live with that much damage being done to the sport’s customers for ‘good racing.’

“How many people have to be listed in ‘guarded’ or ‘critical’ condition before we say that’s too much? Is it lead changes? If we have fewer than five fans hurt for every lead change, is that acceptable?

“Does somebody have to die before we’ve decided we don’t have control?”

A day later, Poole was silenced forever by a massive heart attack.

To Talladega’s and NASCAR’s credit, some changes have been made. The frontstretch catch fence has been raised from 14 to 22 feet, with similar changes coming to the backstretch after Sunday’s Amp Energy 500.

Other changes have been made, presumably to strengthen the structure, but track president Rick Humphrey said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss them publicly.

NASCAR has mandated a smaller restrictor plate, cutting 1/64 inch from the four 15/16ths openings that were used in the spring.

There’s been relatively little debate about the changes in the ramp-up to Sunday’s race, something that’s not too surprising in the post-Poole era, which has seen other reporters fall off the circuit due to budget problems at their places of employment.

But my RacinToday colleague Jeff Hood, and others like Dustin Long, the president of the National Motorsports Press Association, continue to ask the hard questions and deal with tough topics in Poole-like fashion.

Hood and Long queried driver Ryan Newman about Talladega and found a driver who doesn’t think the changes are enough, especially given the length of time between Talladega races.

Newman said he’d like to have seen series officials working on improved roof flaps and other devices to keep cars out of the air.

“I’m glad somebody did something. Ultimately that’s not the answer,” Newman said of the catch fence and plate changes. “Ultimately we need to keep the race cars on the ground. I don’t think anything has been done with respect to that. I don’t think the parts and pieces that flew through the fence and hurt the people, no matter how high the fence is, you’re still going to have that. I don’t think the solution is fixed, but I’m glad somebody made an effort. ….

“I wish some more was done to the race cars to keep them on the ground, whether it’s different style roof flaps; there are things that we could be testing and working on in respect to that.”

Newman said there’s been plenty of time since the last Talladega race to work on solutions.

“Five to six months is plenty of time, based on what we do as teams, to get cars in wind tunnels and things like that to be able to do some research,” he said. “Even if you didn’t implement a part of a piece or whatever it is, it could have been tested and some knowledge gained in that time.”

Maybe if more pressure had been brought on from the press, there would have been more done.

People like Poole can make a difference. Sometimes you don’t know how much until they’re gone.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 29 2009


  • Stephen says:

    Funny how so many promo ads for the current season feature a clip of Edwards’ crash .. carnage sells

  • Richard in N.C. says:

    I don’t guess it would have made any sense to ask someone at NASCAR about it would it? Might have come up with some inconvenient information.

  • Joe says:

    If a car gets up in the stands it’s going to be hard to sell superspeedway racing. For the record; Daytona, Talledega, Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond are the only races I really enjoy. I also like the road course races which really give others an opportunity to win.

  • Charlie says:

    Carl Edwards was correct when he said they would continue this until someone got killed.
    Look, it took the death of Dale Earnhardt before the powers-that-be did something about safety in the cockpit of the car. Let’s hope NASCAR will figure it out. But I ask you, what multi-million dollar company would have Mike Helton, Brian France and Jim Hunter at the head? NONE!!!!