Iron Newman

After Ryan Newman’s horrific crash at the end of the Daytona 500 on Monday night – a wreck that looked much worse than the ones that claimed the lives of Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt – I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d see this less than 48 hours later:

I was relieved when I heard that Newman had survived the crash, but still assumed it may have ended his racing career. At the very least, I figured he was probably done for a few months. And here he is now, accompanied by his young daughters, walking out of the hospital under his own power.

A miracle? No argument here. But also a testament to how far motorsports safety has come since The Intimidator was killed at the very same race nineteen years ago:

…the short answer is that safety improvements at NASCAR races have made it  more unlikely for drivers to die while competing after the death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt in the same race 19 years ago. They might have even helped save Newman, whose injuries aren’t publicly known.

“It’s been amazing,” said Terry Trammell, a racing safety consultant and retired orthopedic surgeon. “They’ve turned this whole thing around over time.”

Mandated head and neck restraints (HANS devices), along with energy-absorbing walls (SAFER barriers), are among the biggest safety advancements since Earnhardt died of head injuries after slamming into a wall at Daytona International Speedway in 2001.

In 2003, NASCAR also opened a research and development center in North Carolina – the first such R&D center owned and operated by a sanctioning body of a major motor sports series. Part of its mission is to track  crashes and study safety, helping give NASCAR nearly two decades without driver deaths in its three national series – a seemingly shocking statistic considering the risks involved. 

NASCAR has made many, many mistakes since its heyday in the late nineties and early 2000s – too many cookie-cutter tracks, constant messing with the points system – but they’ve certainly gotten this right. The sport’s next major challenge will be the inevitable transition away from gasoline-powered cars:

Volkswagen has made it quite clear that its future is electric, but its motorsport division, appropriately called Volkswagen Motorsport, is following the leader.

This past Friday, VW Motorsport announced it has ended development of racing vehicles that feature an internal combustion engine. In translation, gasoline-powered race cars are officially a thing of the past at VW Motorsport. Instead, it’s going all in on electric vehicles. Even though the division is saying goodbye to the engine as we know it, the company is excited about the things to come.

The ID R race car will remain the division’s ambassador, so to speak, and the production MEB electric car platform will also spawn new zero-emissions race cars, too. The ID R has been a beast on numerous race tracks and courses around the world. It owns the electric car lap record at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, perhaps the crown jewel of its achievements thus far.

A few years from now, Newman’s NASCAR Mustang might be a Mach E.