Kyle Petty had a hard time getting to sleep Monday night.
That was partly because of the uncertainty surrounding Ryan Newman’s condition after the terrifying last-lap wreck in the Daytona 500.
But it also was because of the dark memories it dredged up for the NASCAR on NBC analyst, whose son, Adam, was killed in a May 12, 2000 crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – one of four fatalities during a nine-month period culminating in Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Look at pictures of Adam’s accident between at New Hampshire, if you look at Earnhardt’s, so many, many people gathered, but nothing going on is what it looks like,” Petty said on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast, comparing those crash scenes with the response to Newman’s wreck. “All of a sudden, 20 years of having that in a box, someone ripped the top off the box, and you can see right down in it again.
“So for me, it was very emotional. I didn’t sleep much Monday night, honestly. Worried about Ryan, praying for Ryan. But at the same time so many emotions that I thought that time was supposed to heal those wounds. That wound is right there. It’s just under the surface. So it was a tough day or so.”
Petty’s anxiety subsided Tuesday with the news that Newman was alert and talking. The Roush Fenway Racing driver walked out of Halifax Medical Center with his daughters Wednesday afternoon. He is being replaced this weekend by Ross Chastain in the No. 6 Ford at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and no timetable has been provided for his return.
NASCAR hasn’t had a fatality in a national series since Earnhardt’s on Feb. 18, 2001, and Petty openly wondered during the podcast about a youthful generation of budding Cup stars who have yet to experience what it’s like when a peer perishes in a crash.
“When the last fatality happened in a NASCAR upper division, they were in kindergarten or first grade,” Petty said. “So they’ve never seen anything like this. I grew up where you go to the racetrack and you’re playing with a bunch of kids, and their mom comes and gets them, and you never see those kids again. When Friday Hassler got killed at Daytona (in 1972), I never saw his kids again. Have run into them since but never saw them again at a racetrack.
“So many times, you’d go to the racetrack, and a crew member would be killed. A driver would be killed. Whether it was in a qualifying race, practice at Daytona. It was just there. You got used to it. This is an exaggeration, but it’s almost like you’re in a war zone. You just become numb to it. Now we don’t understand it because we don’t see it. We don’t know how to react to it. When we do see something, everyone turns it into a joke, and we laugh it off. … The sport has gotten to a point that it’s incredibly safe, as safe as it’s ever been. But it’s never going to be foolproof safe.”
Since Earnhardt’s crash, NASCAR has mandated the HANS device, SAFER barriers and numerous other safety elements in the car and cockpit. While it’s decreased the danger Petty also worries if it’s led to a false sense of security.
“We just got complacent to the fact that auto racing can be a dangerous sport,” he said. “Now the element of danger has decreased, but it’s always that deep water, flowing really fast, and at the bottom of that well, there’s death.”
During the podcast, Petty also discussed:
–His thoughts on “slam drafting” on superspeedways and how it should be addressed;
–How a driver such as Newman rebounds after such a vicious wreck;
–The laudable way in which Denny Hamlin captured his third Daytona 500 victory.
There also is a video version of the podcast available at the Motorsports on NBC channel on YouTube.