The recent discussion about the course design at the Colorado Champ Tour got me thinking about safety and how we handle post-incident information.
I have been autocrossing for close to 12 years, and for most that time I must admit that safety has not been something that concerned me. That is not to say that I want things unsafe or I disliked the rules in place, but I started autocrossing because it was a “safe” motorsport. Other than working the occasional poorly placed corner station (during which I chose to reposition myself), I have never personally felt unsafe while at an SCCA event.
The system in place seems to work well both regionally and nationally. Many people have taken an interest in being a Solo Safety Steward (SSS), and I hope to join them in the future. The events I have attended have always had a SSS featured prominently, and their duty is clear.
Incidents do happen. I’ve seen mechanical failures at speed, fires, cars that tipped over, you name it. This leads to the issue at hand. How do we learn for these accidents, incidents, or observations?
After the dust has settled on an incident, while the SSS is off filling out paperwork, the general response to the competitors is “Don’t share this on social media. Keep this quiet.” That motivation has merit, we don’t need photos of a burned-up car circulating the internet and skewing the perception of what is an extremely safe sport. There are insurance companies, sponsors, site owners, etc. that must be considered when releasing these events out into the world. However, we must not be afraid to disseminate information from these incidents to the members of the community and, in particular, the SSSs around the country that can prevent the next occurrence.
In a previous life, I was a professional pilot, and accident review was an essential part of continuous education. Accidents were studied and the error chains were analyzed. That study made me a better pilot; and as a whole, the aviation industry became safer because it adopted this practice. There is room for similar action in autocross.
A while back, I won’t get too specific, a car came of course after a run and pulled into grid. As it slowed, you could hear people shouting “Fire!”. The driver exited the vehicle safely and someone was already running with the grid fire extinguisher to help put out the fire. As more people arrived with fire extinguishers to assist, the fire continued to burn in the engine compartment. Probably ten fire extinguishers were exhausted on the hood, the wheel well and under the car, before someone had the good sense to smash a hole in the hood with a sledgehammer. Once there was access to engine compartment the fire was out in seconds.
Someone with safety training for road racing would have known what to do immediately. But for a bunch of autocrossers whose typical emergency is their sprayer ran out of water, it was foreign territory. I’m guessing most people haven’t even used a fire extinguisher. In my opinion, a detailed account of this incident should have gone out via email to every SSS in the county within a week so they could educate themselves and their region’s members.
This brings us back to the Colorado Tour. I was not at the event but I have run at the site in the past, and like many sites in the country it has some contours that can upset the car. This year both the Day 1 and Day 2 courses went over a large bump at speeds over 60 miles per hour. Many cars sustained damage and competitors were ultimately concerned about safety as their cars were potentially uncontrollable as they left the ground and came back down. It does not serve to cast blame, but I think organizers, course designers, safety stewards, and competitors in Colorado and around the country can learn from this issue, provided that the details are disseminated to the different regions. I will let someone else get into the specifics of what was done vs what should have been done. Hopefully the final details can be spread and help establish a precedent for similar situations in the future.
The information sharing of incidents that occur at the regional and national level can only help our sport and its safety. Perhaps a discussion group of Solo Safety Stewards during Nationals can be a start. Until then, be safe out there.