Latest Racing Death Once Again Serves As Grim Reminder

The paddock gathers for a minute’s silence in memory of Luis Salom. #CatalanGP

A photo posted by MotoGP (@motogp) on


As a society, we oftentimes take things for granted too much.

Oftentimes, things come too easy, too early and for too long for many of us.

And then we’re hit with tragedy and our world spins out of control for a while.

I mention all this because of the recent fatal crash by Moto2 rider Luis Salom. I barely knew of Salom, as motorcycle racing is not something I follow closely.

See Also: MotoGP Pays Tribute to Salom

However, in the bigger picture, Salom joins so many other racers that have lost their lives while pursuing their passion on either two or four wheels.

We saw the same thing happen last year when F1 driver Jules Bianchi died from injuries suffered in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, or when Justin Wilson was killed at Pocono in the Verizon IndyCar Series race there.

Luis Salom
Luis Salom. Photo courtesy of MotoGP.com

And the list extends to dozens, if not hundreds of racers over the years, including NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt, NHRA’s Scott Kalitta and so many more.

That is particularly impactful in the lower categories of motorsports, particularly the sportsman ranks, where we’ve seen so many amateur racers lose their lives – and yet their tragedies have barely made local news in their respective areas, let alone making national news.

I did some very loose and limited research last year for a story I was working on and came up with six fatalities in just a period of a few months. The majority of those deaths were racers, but it also included track workers and even amateurs making their first attempt behind a wheel.

My point in all this is that while racing is still very safe, and it is arguably safer than it has ever been, it will never – ever – be completely 100 percent risk-free.

Even with all the state of the art safety enhancements that have burst on the scene over the last 15 years since Earnhardt was killed, death or serious injury always has the potential to be around the next turn.

You can have the most skilled driver behind the wheel and he can just as easily become the next victim of the Grim Reaper. All it takes is for that same driver to make a rare and uncharacteristic mistake, or another driver makes a mistake, and somebody sadly perishes, much like Salom did a week ago.

While I’m relieved that we haven’t seen any deaths in major NASCAR competition in the last 15 years since Earnhardt’s passing, and there haven’t been any since Kalitta was killed at Englishtown, New Jersey eight years ago (June 21, 2008), it doesn’t mean we should grow complacent.

There are still several races each year that I hold my breath at where things have the potential to quickly spin out of control, fearing the worse but hoping for the best. There’s Talladega in NASCAR. There’s last year’s IndyCar race at Fontana. There’s virtually every NHRA race – just look at how Jack Beckman incredibly survived the explosion of his Funny Car last weekend in New Hampshire.

Thankfully, everybody typically walks away. But not always. Bianchi, Wilson and Salom are among the most recent victims that speak to that.

And as much as I’d like to wish they were the last victims we’ll ever have in racing, I know that’s just not the case.

At the same time, let’s hope that all motorsports series – from F1 to NASCAR to NHRA to IndyCar and all the way down to the smallest grassroots entities – never, ever stop thinking about safety and continue working at ways to further improve safety for everyone: drivers, track officials and fans.

We owe all that not only to those who race today, tomorrow and in the future, but also owe it to the memory of those who tragically died doing what they love.

Their lives and deaths should never be forgotten.

Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

 

About Jerry Bonkowski 38 Articles
Jerry Bonkowski is a veteran motorsports writer who has worked for USA Today (15 years), ESPN.com (3 1/2 years), Yahoo Sports (4 1/2 years) and is in his third year with NBCSports.com's NASCAR Talk and MotorSportsTalk. He also is a regular on-air host for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (14 years). Jerry has been married for 30 years to Cyndee, the love of his life, and they are the proud parents of three adult children (still waiting for his first grandchild!). Twitter: @JerryBonkowski
  • Steve Penrose

    4 riders killed in one week this year at the Isle of Man TT. They know the risk and take it willingly.

  • KatMan

    Dying has never entered my mind when the Simpson equipment goes on and yes I know what the risk reward is for the addiction I suffer willingly. I admit I have lost friends at this over the many years of participation. I admit I suffer to this day the burns around my legs that came close to doing me in several years ago. My only concession to aging has been going back to the beginnings and doing the straight line thing rather than the endurance racing that is my true love. Will I quit, not if i can find a way to build a coffin to NHRA rules. You’re a racer or fan or not, your choice, and mine!

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