Literally overnight, rookie Nascar driver Michael McDowell went from an unknown to national sensation. Saturday morning, he appeared on at least one national television show. The reason: a fiery head-on collision with the wall while practicing for the race at Texas Motor Speedway.
If you happened to be watching the crash live, you could hear the fear and anxiety in announcer (and former driver) Daryl Waltrip’s voice. Certainly, many people would have assumed that McDowell died in the accident. Much to Nascar’s credit, the innovations at the tracks and inside the cars themselves saved his life. The story at Nascar.com provides further details about the safety equipment.
The initial news stories on the crash focused on the safety elements that saved McDowell. However, if I were on Nascar’s communications team, I would be concerned about questions focusing on the absorbent material that was still on the track when subsequent drivers practiced and Nascar’s decision to allow those racers on the track with the substance still out there. As a matter of fact, if memory serves, McDowell was the second driver to slip a bit out there in that absorbent they place to dry out oil spills.
I think that the press should question Nascar about the decision to allow teams back on the track after an earlier accident. The McDowell accident proves that these are potentially life and death calls and drivers deserve better, even if the spectacular crashes draw publicity and increase fan interest.