One can argue that he inherent danger of motorsport plays a major role, if not the only role, in its appeal to the masses. The pulse pounding fear that chaos can break out at an instant resonates with many, but those of us who call ourselves fans aren’t so much in love with that thought when it becomes a reality. We want to see racers push themselves and their machines to their absolute limits, but we want to see them live to tell the tale.
Sometimes, things happen in racing that remind us just how dangerous the sport truly is, and sometimes we wonder if there were more steps that could have been taken than were in the name of prevention. Such has been the case with incidents involving debris striking drivers in open wheel cockpits, especially since the tragic accident that led to the passing of Justin Wilson at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
Since then, everybody has agreed that something needs to be done to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening again, but how?
It has become perhaps the most polarizing debate in open wheel racing over the past several years; should they close the cockpits, use a halo, a windscreen? Each series, each manufacturer, team, equipment company, and even fan have their own solutions, none of which can be agreed upon. Formula One has the halo, set to go into full time use this season, others have suggested closing cockpits entirely with a canopy, andthis past week, IndyCar announced plans for February 8th to test and possibly bring back a former friend in the windscreen, and the fan response has me puzzled to say the least.
The easiest way for millenials like me to judge reactions from fans is to use social media. Instead of unanimous support for a device that has not only been proven to deflect debris, but has been used many times over in the past, I witnessed comments complaining everything from it looking too much like a car from a video game to it being an overreach of safety. Comments on Facebook pages for IndyCar and others have quotes like, “One step forward, three back,” “(This) will turn it to little more than gokart racing,” “Next we will be wrapping drivers in bubble wrap, “Who expects safe? The danger is part of the appeal,” and much more.
While there is overwhelming support from fans for the windscreen in IndyCar, I do not understand even slightly the negative backlash.
I get it, you want to see danger. But there’s a line between overreach and common sense, a line between damaging the spirit of competition in the name of safety and something like this. And really, what effect would a windscreen even have on on-track competition? I don’t see any potential impact, other than another step to avert something terrible from happening again. You don’t even have to go back very far in history to find a time when windscreens in CART were the standard. Look at photos from any Indy 500 in the late 80s and you’ll find them. Where were the cries about overreach in safety back then?
The question I have to ask here is, would you rather see a simple attempt at solving a clear and present danger, or nothing done at all? Yes, there are debates over whether a windscreen could even have saved Wilson, and yes, thorough testing to reach the best possible outcome must be conducted, but semantics shouldn’t interfere with common sense.
When I was in the pro wrestling business, any time a bad guy was stuck in an armbar, the fans would scream “Break It!” One night, a wrestler I was working with screamed back in annoyance, “What would you do if I did?”
So while we’re all attracted to the danger of racing, while we’re all always on edge for that split second when hell could break loose, that moment where a windscreen could save a life, what would you do if it did?