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Sam Hornish's hard crash Monday shows Watkins Glen needs some safety improvements

   Sam Hornish Jr., and daughter Addison. NASCAR racers are more than just drivers, they're family. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Changes, like a speed-slowing gravel pit and maybe even a Safer barrier wall, should be coming soon to Watkins Glen International's carousel corner, or else NASCAR risks an even worse accident over there than the two last weekend, involving Sam Hornish Jr. and Jason Leffler.
   Hornish had the most spectacular crash, one of the worst of the season, but he managed to walk away…though it could have been worse, considering how hard he got hit by Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.
   Gordon said the impact was so severe that his  back is now really aching.
   Travis Geisler, Hornish's crew chief for the Roger Penske team, says Hornish "is in good shape. 
   "He was going to take it easy and get a little rest."
   But Geisler says that part of the course needs safety improvement: "Looking at that section of the track at Watkins Glen, I really feel we need to do some improvements. 
    "We saw Jason Leffler have the exact same thing happen (Friday in Nationwide practice). 
    "Unfortunately in the race, you have a lot more cars in a tight area, and there wasn't any room for Sam to get kicked back out into the middle of the track (by the tire barrier) and not get hit by another car. 
    "I would really ask that Watkins Glen take a look at what they have there. 
    "It's a pretty fast, high-speed section, without a lot of run-off. 
    "They do a great job with (gravel) traps in a lot of corners. And I think they could probably push the wall (that Hornish hit) back a little bit, maybe put up some SAFER barriers that we have at all the other tracks…and put a little gravel run-off in there, so that you trap a car when it goes off. 
    "Then it would be just Sam wrecking, instead of Sam, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.
    "The tire barriers seemed like a trampoline to me. And everybody who watched last year's race remembers the 'highlight reel' of Sam getting pretty much involved in someone else's wreck there. 
    "If the wall had absorbed the car, or kept it at least close to it, it probably would have been a single, or maybe two or three-car incident.
    "Instead, the whole track was blocked because he got bounced back onto the track and people couldn't avoid him."
   Indeed, the Hornish-Gordon-Burton crash was downright frightening.
   "Your first instinct is to see if it's you driver…and at a place like Watkins Glen (so huge), it's tough," Geisler says. 
    "We have three spotters, and they still don't see every spot on the track. 
    "So we really didn't see what was going on until it came up on the (TV) Jumbotron. 
    "It certainly is concerning. Sam's not just a driver, he's a friend of ours, he spends a lot of time with us, we spend a lot of time with his family, his wife Crystal, his daughter Addison….
    "You live together pretty much all year long, so you develop close ties. 
     "Fortunately we were able to see on the Jumbotron he was reaching up to get the window net down (the signal by a driver that he's okay). I told him 'Hey, go ahead and get out.  We see you moving. You have a little bit of fire on the back….'
   "…And just try to keep him calm. 
    "It is concerning. But we know we've done everything we can do on the safety side, and he does everything he can do inside there to keep himself safe. 
    "From there, you just have to hope the good Lord is on his side. 
    "Watching the replay, Jeff Gordon took a pretty darn good hit too. 
    "We were a little more spectacular -- with how our car spun around.
     "Jeff Gordon took a little more of a hit when he hit the inside barrier." 

   Fortunately all the safety devices in Hornish's car worked well: "With the carbon-fiber seats and everything we've done over the last couple of years, it's pretty obvious we have a really safe car," Geisler says. 
   "This car-of-tomorrow has done a really good job protecting the drivers. 
    "Watching a friend take a hit like that isn't the most comforting thing.  But knowing you've done everything you can do…and when you see him sitting there (afterwards) playing with his baby girl, it makes you feel like you’re doing a pretty good job."

A gravel trap needs to be

A gravel trap needs to be installed and the guardrail and tire barrier needs to be moved further up in that split area. Where that wreck happened is at the split with the extra part of the race track that NASCAR does not use. Hornish ran off in the triangle between the two sections of track, and the tire barrier did it's job, but it's so close to the track and at such an angle that it just spit him back out onto the track. Pushing that barrier further away from the carousel turn will not only allow more room for a larger gravel trap, but it would also allow the driver to be clear of the turn and back in a straight line which would greatly reduce the chance of impact to that wall altogether. Here's an overhead of the area:


good work on the map....i

good work on the map....i should have thought of that. thanks.....
or, hey, maybe nascar could use the 'boot.' that might be an interesting twist.....

I like Watkins Glen for stock

I like Watkins Glen for stock cars. There is room to pass, unlike Sears Point, and it's not a track where you have to be a road-racing expert to finish well at. I would rather give Sears Point "the boot" and head for Road Atlanta or Lime Rock. Lime Rock host the Camping World Series and Road Atlanta used to host the Nationwide Series and several Cup teams still test there. Neither is a stranger to stock cars.

Camping World East Series at Lime Rock

Jimmie Johnson testing at Road Atlanta

i remember back in '84 I

i remember back in '84 I think it was when bill france jr. had richard childress build a special LR stock car (left-right), for the Glen, in case the big cars couldn't do it. i like both the glen and sonoma, but then there's no reason the track owners can't widen the track in some areas to make for more passing opportunities. I still think Sonoma's downhill carousel -- the Kulwicki Korner -- was one of the best parts of that track. Bruton Smith shouldn't have messed with that part of the course...and i don't see where the new section he added has made for any more passing -- too tight corners. make the track wider.

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