2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona GT class winner and founder of Impact Safety Systems Richard ‘RJ’ Valentine has been speaking out about his frustration at the slow pace of change in increasing circuit safety.
Writing to motorsport media representatives over the past week, Valentine quoted statistics demonstrating that at least 23 race drivers had lost their lives since January 2018 after impacting with concrete, tyre packs, guardrails or fences.
RJ Valentine pointed out that, although other factors come into play such as car-to-car contact, mechanical failure or driver error, the root cause of at least 23 racing deaths in the past 21 months involved a collision with an unyielding surface.
“The fact racing is intrinsically dangerous is a given,” said Valentine. “But it’s unconscionable to continue accepting fatalities and debilitating injuries as par for the course when many could be prevented if the bulk of America’s race track walls weren’t made of concrete, steel or tyres.
“Has it ever occurred to anyone that no official track rating system or governing organisation for track safety exists? For those drivers who do care about their safety – and there are many – why isn’t there a way to assess potential risks before deciding whether to race on a particular track?
“I hope sanctioning bodies, series, circuits, or maybe even the drivers themselves, will take charge of this fixable issue. Though a handful of major sanctioning bodies like NASCAR, the FIA, IndyCar and the Sprint Car Council have taken responsibility for safety mandates, there are still countless other sanctioning bodies and associated series who haven’t. I’m still counting the years that go by as we wait for track safety to trickle down…and counting the numbers of drivers lost each month.”
Aside from the work that RJ Valentine’s company, Impact Safety Systems, has done with its ProLink Barriers, a system designed to progressively retard vehicle speed on impact to reduce the likelihood of blunt force trauma to drivers, Valentine has been pushing forward with other initiatives to improve track safety.
In 2018, the Massachusetts-based entrepreneur formed Racing Safety United (RSU), a volunteer-based alliance of 34 representatives from across all areas in motorsports. The alliance has a mission statement which reads; “Improve driver protection to reduce injuries, concussions and fatalities at all levels of racing.” The organisation will shortly be releasing the results of an extensive driver safety survey.
“How can we stop the killing without killing the excitement?” concludes RJ Valentine whose racing career has spanned four decades with over 400 starts. “What can we do to eliminate disabling injuries without crippling the motorsports industry? Who will take a stand against unnecessary harm? Continuing to ignore the problem isn’t going to make it go away.”
More information about RJ Valentine’s Racing Safety United initiative can be found here.