Despite recent crash, Roseville’s speedway has first-rate safety record

Race experts, fans worry wrecks are taken out of context
By: Jorden P. Hales, Reporter
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A vehicle at Roseville's All American Speedway went head-on into a wall during a race on Sunday, August 10 — playing into what race fans and track officials say is a skewed portrayal of the speedway’s actual safety record.

In the case of the Aug. 10 collision, the driver, Lisa Young, was taken to Sutter Roseville after being removed from her vehicle while unconscious.

"The call initially came in a vehicle accident on the race track,” said Rob Baquera, public information officer for the Roseville Fire Department. "Our estimates are they were traveling at about 45 to 50 miles an hour. There was significant front-end damage to the car…when we arrived on the scene, we were able to extricate (her) our of the car. We had to chop it up pretty good."

The incident happened to take place on the same day as the death of Kevin Ward Jr., a dirt sprint car racer who lost his life in a vastly different on-track incident at Motorsports Park in Canandaigua, New York. Ward approached the moving vehicle of fellow racer Tony Stewart on foot during a caution flag, apparently displeased with Stewart. The rear tire of Stewart's vehicle struck Ward, inflicting massive blunt trauma.

In Roseville and around the nation, the two incidents have prompted much banter about the inherent danger of fast-moving vehicles. While such narratives are usually ones of concern, the records tell a different story, with motorsports proving to be extremely safe compared to many recreational activities.

Roseville’s All American Speedway has seen just three deaths occur on its track since 1970, two of which were attributed to heart attacks suffered by drivers rather than speed or carelessness.

"It's been printed before that there have been deaths out here and (the reports) left out the fact that they were heart attacks," said Rick Poppert, manager of operations at All American Speedway. "How it comes out in print is that there was a wreck and the guy died. One of them rolled to a stop on the track. Another had a heart attack and was dead before he hit the wall, so he didn't die from a wreck."

Poppert, who has been working and racing at Roseville’s speedway since the late 1960s, said the industry is constantly working to counter a reputation it believes has been unjustly bestowed upon it by the media.

"The way it's printed creates the misconception," Poppert asserted. "There are very few reporters that care about auto racing or follow auto racing, and that's where the misconception comes from most of the time."

Author Bill Poindexter, who wrote a book on All American Speedway and another speedway for the NASCAR Library Collection, believes a lack of familiarity with auto racing and other motorsports makes incidents more alarming to the general public.

“No one ever writes about trains until, there's a train wreck — no one ever writes about planes, until there's a plane wreck, and then everyone spends a week or so talking about how nasty it is and how bad it is,” Poindexter observed. "So in the case of the Tony Stewart thing and the rare fatalities on the track – Dale Earnhardt, Eric Medlin, stuff like that — there have been just a handful of them, but they are so rare that they get people talking so much. I think that's why people have perception that if you drive a dragster 320-miles-per-hour for four seconds, something bad is gonna' happen.”

Like most in the industry, Poindexter acknowledges the inherent dangers of such activities but cites the rarity of serious incidents to encourage concerned parties to keep things in perspective.

“Something bad can happen, but rarely does it happen because they’re still so doggone safe, and these guys are so good at what they do,” Poindexter added. “They're all pros, they're experts at what they do.”

Most drivers at the All American Speedway do not exceed speeds of 100 miles per hour and frequently reduce acceleration to under 50 while negotiating turns.

“Speedways are very safe, notably the short tracks because you can’t get going as fast," Poindexter said. "If you're at Daytona, you're going 200-220 miles per hour, and a lot can happen when you're going 200 miles an hour. A lot less can happen when you're going 90 on a (circular) track.”

In cases where inexperienced drivers are participating in recreational activities, the All American Speedway stages practice sessions before allowing them into the events.

“Normally they will come out and rent the track on Friday for three hours and get a little bit of (practice) time before they go out and compete,” Poppert explained. “And we take steps. If someone is totally out of control in practice, we won't let them race and we will advise them to come out and rent the track and get a little seat time to get the car figured out.”

Drivers of all skill levels are secured with five-point seat belts while wearing helmets and other safety gear. All safety equipment is checked and replaced at regular intervals by the speedway’s personnel.

NASCAR driver Joey Logano recently made headlines after attending an NFL training camp and later telling the Associated Press he felt football was far more dangerous than his profession.

"I would absolutely agree with Joey,” said Pointdexter. "You can look at the sheer number of injuries in each sport and that's your answer right there.”

According to a 2013 report by the New York Daily News, an average of 12 high school and college football players die each year. Some of these deaths are attributed to heart-related conditions like the ones at American River Speedway. However, nearly a third were determined to be injury-related. In 2012, NASCAR reported only 216 “caution” alerts, which warn active drivers when incidents occur on the track. Since 1990, only 20 such NASCAR alerts across the entire country have involved fatalities.

“People have drowned waterskiing, people hit trees on the ski slopes,” Poppert pointed out.

Pointdexter agrees, adding, “You know, (reaction to accidents) depends on your perception and where you want to go with it.”