Q: Wow, what a disastrous start to the ABC Pocono 500! Thankfully Robert survived a horrific accident, and the race went on to completion without further incidents. In hindsight, with Wickens awake and alert, I think IndyCar could have gotten that word out much quicker. Curt Cavin said it was because of the back up of drivers, but you don’t need an X-ray to tell if someone is awake and alert. I started hearing about scanner calls on Twitter that he was awake at least a half an hour before the official announcement. All the boo-birds were calling for NBCSN to be burned at the stake for showing reruns of the accident before knowing Robert was okay, not to mention calling for abolishing ovals.
As for the race, I just was interested in Rossi bringing home the win, so waited three hours to see if traffic, pit stops or a penalty was going to steal it from him. It is very evident to me the new aero tweaks did not work. Leaders could not get by lapped cars, and the Rossi pass of Power was the only saving grace due to Power’s error. Where do we go from here? To me this was the worst race of the season, and I love ovals. They have the road and street circuits in a pretty good place, but they need some kind of drastic change for the big ovals. Lastly, who do you think the candidates to take over Robert’s ride for the rest of the season? It sounds like he will be out the rest of the year. It is a very big loss for the series, as he is very likable and a hell of a racer.
RM: I think IndyCar needs an immediate lesson in crisis management. First off, you keep your TV partner in the loop and let them know ASAP whether Wickens is alive so they can convey that. NBCSN got ZERO information. An hour of silence only makes people think the worst. And when you say “awake and alert” like he’s ready to play backgammon, that’s disingenuous as hell. You say he’s got orthopedic issues but no life-threatening injuries. Period. People have been writing all week they’re glad he’s alright. Well he’s a long way from alright, but thankfully is alive. He underwent spinal surgery Monday night to stabilize a thoracic spinal fracture with titanium rods and screws were placed successfully in Wickens’ spine during the surgery, which was performed without complication. The severity of the spinal cord injury is indeterminate at this time. Wickens is expected to undergo further surgeries to treat fractures in his lower extremities and right forearm. He remains in stable condition.
Q: I am greatly relieved that we didn’t lose Robert Wickens. That said, it sounds like his injuries are far worse than suggested earlier by the “he’s awake and alert” statement. Everyone jumped on that as if they thought everything was going to be okay, but clearly his injuries are substantial. I noticed on one of the replays that his head was flailing around violently. I suppose the HANS device helped to some degree. This accident was remarkable similar to the one that took Dan Wheldon from us. We got lucky this time, although something needs to change. Since the accident I’ve been trying to think of something that would be better than those catch fences. They do the job of keeping the racecar with the confines of the race track, but that isn’t good enough. Something better needs to be used to control the deceleration of a car or cars without destroying them and sending them back onto the racing surface. This wreck could have been far worse. Like Mario said in your interview, we’ve come a long way since the 1960s, but more needs to be done. All I can think of is the barriers they use on aircraft carriers to stop jets if the tail hook fails to work. I’m sure there are better ideas, but the powers that be need to come up with something. The outcome of that wreck today could have been far worse than it was. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Robert.
Doug Mayer, Revelstoke, BC, Canada
RM: Read the reply above yours about IndyCar’s statement. As for the accident, no, thankfully it wasn’t anything like Wheldon’s because Robert never hit the fence or post with his head because the cockpit stayed right side up on top of the SAFER barrier before striking the fence.
Q: With all the innovation with the SAFER barrier and other protections for the drivers, why are all the walls still only four feet tall? If the wall at Pocono was three feet higher, Wickens would not have been spun off the catch fencing in such a violent way. The answer can’t be visuals, because there are no spectator areas in any of those turns at Pocono. If walls were about eight feet tall at all ovals, we wouldn’t have these catch fence incidents. And another potential solution could be clear plastic sheeting like they have at hockey games. Put a layer of smooth, bulletproof type plastic on the catch fencing. Thoughts?
RM: Plexiglas has been looked at but is way too expensive, and raising the walls doesn’t prevent a car from clearing it. (Look at Scott Dixon’s footage from 2017). You don’t know what a flipping IndyCar is going to do, and raising the walls is no guarantee. But my concern has always been the spectators because of the shrapnel from a crash or a car going through the fence or clearing it. So, yes, something new needs to be invented, but it’s more of an open-wheel problem than NASCAR’s, so who is going to foot the bill?
Q: I want to offer some common sense about procedure. Not that I think it would have any effect on the safety team getting to a crash, but I think it’s high time IndyCar calls red immediately following a crash like this at Pocono. No need for the other drivers to have to drive back around through that like they currently do. Keeps more people out of harm’s way, and mentally the drivers don’t need to see these things.
RM: Well, when IndyCar saw how badly the fence was damaged it threw the red flag, but it would have likely stayed yellow until all the debris was cleaned up had the fence not needed attention.