Following the death of sprint car dirt track racer Kevin Ward Jr. last weekend at Cananadaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York, NASCAR has announced new procedures and rules for drivers competing in national-level events.
Ward died after he walked back down the track toward the racing line following a racing incident that put his car out of the event seemingly to remonstrate with Cup driver Tony Stewart. Running under a caution, Stewart's car hit Ward leaving the 20-year-old with fatal blunt force trauma injuries. Stewart was unhurt in the incident but was described as very shaken, and he has not raced since. The accident is still under investigation by local authorities.
On Friday morning ahead of track activities for this week's Pure Michigan 400, NASCAR issued a statement in which it laid out what it expected of drivers in the future in order to ensure that a similar tragedy does not occur in a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the future.
“Throughout the history of our sport, NASCAR has reviewed and analysed situations and occurrences that take place not just in NASCAR racing but also throughout all motorsports and other sports,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development.
"When we believe we can do something to make our sport safer and better for the competitors and others involved in the competition environment, we react quickly," he added. "Safety always has been priority number one at NASCAR."
In effect, the new addition to the NASCAR rulebook directs drivers to stay in their cars until the safety crew arrives, except in the event of immediate danger to the driver should he stay in the cockpit, for example from fire. Once out of the car, a driver is forbidden to move toward the race track or a moving vehicle.
The new rule - section 9-16, relating to on-track incident procedure - will apply to all of NASCAR's racing series, effective immediately. Pemberton said that the introduction of the new rule was "part of the evolution of NASCAR's rules and regulations."
“Through time you have to recognize when you get a reminder or tap on the shoulder, something that may need to be addressed,” Pemberton explained. “This is one of those times where we look outside our sport and we look at other things, and we feel like it was time to address this.
“It was one of those that was obviously something that everybody paid attention to. And it is on the heels of that."
The full text of the new regulation states:
"During an Event, if a racecar is involved in an on-track incident and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating emergency conditions exist with the racecar (i.e. fire, smoke in cockpit, etc.) the driver should take the following steps:
"Shut off electrical power and, if driver is uninjured, lower window net
"Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
"After being directed to exit the racecar, the driver should proceed to either the ambulance, other vehicle, or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR/Track Official
"At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron
"At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle
"All vehicles not involved in the incident or that are able to continue afterwards should slow down to a cautious speed as outlined in Section 10-4 (Yellow Flag), use extreme care as they approach an incident scene, and follow any directions given by safety personnel or NASCAR/Track Officials. Cars in line behind the safety car should not weave or otherwise stray from the line in the vicinity of the incident."
Penalties for infractions of the new rule would be worked out on a case-by-case basis said Pemberton, who added that the new section in the rulebook simply formalised and made explicit what had already been standard NASCAR expectations.