News & Media

Evernham at forefront of racing safety initiatives

December 05, 2012, Mark Aumann,

WESTFIELD, Ind. -- As a longtime NASCAR crew chief, Ray Evernham was at the forefront when it came to getting the most speed out of his race cars. Now he's trying to lead the way when it comes to racing safety.

In his keynote address Wednesday to open the two-day International Motorsports Industry Show conference on motorsports safety, Evernham said it's imperative that everyone involved in racing take responsibility for safety improvements.

"Safety is a mindset and it is something that needs to be part of our DNA, our thought process," Evernham said. "... We should think about safety in the same way we think about winning. Motorsports, as we know it, can be dangerous. It's risky. But managing safety helps you manage those risks."

Evernham said drivers are most responsible for safety, because they have the ultimate decision whether to climb into the car or not. Drivers need to be proactive, according to Evernham -- not only in using the correct safety equipment but in doing research and getting the education about safety in order to mitigate the danger.

"Safety is a mindset and it is something that needs to be part of our DNA, our thought process. We should think about safety in the same way we think about winning."


"Why take a risk? Why put yourself in any more of a risk than being out playing golf?" Evernham asked. "Why would you do that if you didn't have to? At short tracks around the country, I see guys not wearing gloves. I see guys not wearing their seat belts right. I see people without fireproof underwear on. Why would you do that? Why would you take chance on hurting your livelihood when you can prevent it."

"If we're not using the information available to us out there, we're not doing ourselves justice."

But safety should be just as important to the crew chief, the car builder and the people making the equipment.

Evernham brought that point home to his audience by using a personal experience. His wife, Erin Crocker Evernham, was involved in a wild rollover crash during a heat race at Knoxville Raceway in 2010 after a part broke on his car.

She escaped with some soreness, but Evernham -- who was standing in the pits watching -- was struck by how helpless he felt until she climbed out. Safety is not just important for the participants, but for the families as well.

"We have a responsibility to make sure people don't have to feel like that, like I did watching that car that day, and not knowing if she was going to come out of that thing or not," Evernham said.

It's been said that safety isn't a destination as much as a journey, but that journey needs to be undertaken by everyone involved, Evernham said. Being proactive -- and continually working to improve the system -- has to be a cooperative effort.

In addition, Evernham said questioning the status quo -- and not settling for minimum safety standards -- needs to be the goal of everyone who straps on a helmet.

"I use that term 'Group IQ' a lot, because none of us is as smart as all of us, and I may know something you don't and vice versa," Evernham said. "It takes a lot of eyes and hands working together, and it takes people speaking up.

"Sometimes you're going to have to be a guy who's not really popular when you ask a safety question that's going to cost money or it's going to cause a change. But sometimes you have to take a hard stance."

Wednesday's events included crash-test demonstrations of driver netting, helmet function and HANS frontal impacts at the IMMI Center For Advanced Product Evaluation facility north of Indianapolis.

For the safety experts in attendance, it was a vivid representation of how far racing safety has come, particularly in the past decade. But for Evernham, what was considered "safe" in the past shouldn't be acceptable in today's world.

"In this sport -- in a heartbeat -- your life can change," Evernham said. "With total respect to the heroes, the iron men who built this sport not far from here, this is the 21st century. It's not OK to get hurt anymore. You're not supposed to die in a race car. You don't have to be tough.

"This sport has evolved. All sports do. ... You're not supposed to pay that kind of penalty. The technology's out there. Use it. Keep safety being a mindset -- more so than speed, more so than anything we do. It's something that we are all responsible for."