WEST ALLIS, Wis. — When IndyCar Series star Juan Pablo Montoya crashed in Toronto last month, he might have been tempted to start removing his safety gear and climb out of his car right away. It's a good thing he didn't.
Well after Montoya's car came to a stop, Mikhail Aleshin's car slammed hard into the back of Montoya's — so hard, in fact, that his car ended up underneath Montoya's. Both drivers were OK.
Safety concerns aside, Montoya suggests a more practical reason he stayed buckled up that day: If he started undoing his safety belts, he knew officials wouldn't let him back in the race.
"If the safety crew gets there, and your belts are off, they will not restart your car," Montoya said.
With NASCAR and race tracks across the country revising safety procedures after a sprint car driven by NASCAR star Tony Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. — who had climbed out of his car and walked out onto the track in an apparent expression of displeasure with Stewart's driving — IndyCar officials are comfortable with procedures they already have in place.
According to an IndyCar spokesman Mike Kitchel, the following procedure is reviewed with drivers during a pre-season safety presentation and in pre-race drivers meetings: "IndyCar's safety guidelines, which includes post-incident protocol, specifies that drivers are instructed to stay in the car (unless there is a fire, etc.) until the Holmatro Safety Team arrives."
"We've always just been told, stay in your cars until help gets there," driver and team owner Ed Carpenter said Saturday, during a break in practice for Sunday's IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile. "The only real exception is if you're on fire. Other than that, the safest place to be is in the car, buckled in. There's no other place that's as safe on a racetrack."
Added Montoya: "You don't get out of the car without the safety (team)."
NASCAR announced a new rule on Friday requiring drivers to wait in their cars for instructions from safety crews before exiting their cars, assuming there isn't a fire or other dangerous situation, then proceeding directly to an ambulance without approaching other vehicles. Several grassroots-level racetracks announced similar rule changes this week.
The new NASCAR rule is expected to tamp down on the high-profile displays of anger that have become fairly common on NASCAR tracks in recent years. That culture exists in IndyCar, too, but might not be as pronounced.
Why? Carpenter points out a key difference between NASCAR and IndyCar: The IndyCar series has a full-time safety team that travels to each race, while each NASCAR track uses local rescue and medical personnel.
Carpenter says the IndyCar safety team has earned respect from drivers for its quick response time and professional attitude, attributes that go a long way toward keeping hot-tempered drivers from escalating a situation.
"They're generally there before you get out of the car anyway," Carpenter says. "They're so quick. And they're there to protect us. You watch how they park their trucks when they come to a crash scene, they park them between the racing line, the race cars and the disabled cars, as another layer of protection."
Carpenter says there's a trust factor that comes from seeing the same faces every week.
"A lot of them have been here my whole career," Carpenter says. "For me, I've been doing this 11 years, things happen and they take care of you and you know that. When they ask you or tell you to do something, generally we're all respectful of that because we appreciate what they do. If it's somebody you don't know, you're probably going to tell them to screw off if you're that mad."
After Montoya was involved in an incident with Carpenter at Iowa Speedway last month, Montoya did climb out of his car and gesture at Carpenter as he drove by under caution — but Montoya was being escorted by a safety worker standing right next to him, who then directed Montoya away from the area.
"He was angry and he showed his displeasure , but he also kept a safe distance," Carpenter says. "It's a different situation. All the safety trucks are there, you're fully aware of what's going on. You see he's out of the car. It's a little different than being at a short track, winged sprint cars (and) visibility issues. It's a little different. I thought he was going to throw something. He didn't. But he got his point across without putting himself in danger or getting any closer."
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