/How did driver Ryan Newman survive that NASCAR crash at Daytona?
How did driver Ryan Newman survive that NASCAR crash at Daytona?

How did driver Ryan Newman survive that NASCAR crash at Daytona?


The spectacular and terrifying crash at the Daytona 500 had all of the trappings of another tragedy: A speeding car went flying up, turned upside down, got hit by another car on the driver’s side of the vehicle and then burst into flames.
Yet somehow the driver, Ryan Newman, survived it Monday night. According to his racing team, Newman, 42, even was “awake and speaking with family and doctors” Tuesday, providing some relief to just about everybody who saw the crash and might have wondered the same thing:
How could a person survive that?
Detailed answers won’t be determined until after investigators collect evidence and conduct interviews with those involved.
Fans at Daytona International Speedway stare in shock as Ryan Newman's No. 6 Ford goes skidding down the track upside-down in a shower of flames and sparks.
But the short answer is that safety improvements at NASCAR races have made it  more unlikely for drivers to die while competing after the death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt in the same race 19 years ago. They might have even helped save Newman, whose injuries aren’t publicly known.
“It’s been amazing,” said Terry Trammell, a racing safety consultant and retired orthopedic surgeon. “They’ve turned this whole thing around over time.”
Mandated head and neck restraints (HANS devices), along with energy-absorbing walls (SAFER barriers), are among the biggest safety advancements since Earnhardt died of head injuries after slamming into a wall at Daytona International Speedway in 2001.
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In 2003, NASCAR also opened a research and development center in North Carolina – the first such R&D center owned and operated by a sanctioning body of a major motor sports series. Part of its mission is to track  crashes and study safety, helping give NASCAR nearly two decades without driver deaths in its three national series – a seemingly shocking statistic considering the risks involved.
In the year before Earnhardt’s death, three NASCAR national series drivers died because of crashes.
In the 19 years since, there have been none despite a continuing display of collisions and injuries, including a broken leg and foot for Kyle Busch — the reigning Cup Series champion — after crashing in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona in 2015. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also suffered from concussions and retired from the sport in 2017 partly because of his concerns about it.
Such risks generally are accepted by drivers in all motor sports who strap themselves into these high-powered machines in a state of almost no escape, all moving at high speeds in a tangle of cars.
“I don’t think about crashing ’cause you can’t,” current IndyCar driver Conor Daly said. He calls crashing “part of the game.”
In Newman’s case, his survival might even seem more shocking considering the nature of his collision – flipped upside down and then hit on the driver’s side by another car.
A NASCAR car “has a very well-built cage that has a lot of side-impact protection in it,” said Trammell, who is featured in “Rapid Response,” a documentary film released last year about racing safety.

It still can’t prevent every risk. Trade-offs often are required, too. For example, turning the vehicle into an even more impenetrable cage probably would make it safer in one sense but also more difficult to exit, which then would create other safety risks whenever drivers need to be extricated from it. Trammell said one of the most vulnerable places a driver can get hit is upside down by his side window.
“The design is to protect from the window sill down,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot between the roof and the door that protects you.”
Behind the wheel, there’s also not much a driver can do in the moment after impact. Retired IndyCar legend Mario Andretti knows the feeling.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen my flip in 2003 at Indy,”  Andretti said. “That’s my last memory of something like that. Whenever it happens, you just hang on for dear life and hope there’s no vacancy upstairs and hope you can live through it. You don’t know. Everything happens really fast, but at the same time you know it could hurt but you just hang on. In the moment, you’re just along for the ride. Nothing else.”
Contributing: Nathan Brown, The Indianapolis Star.
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com
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