Last Sunday morning the racing world mourned the death of World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars driver Jason Johnson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash at an event the night before in Wisconsin.
This weekend, NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell appeared in the Chicagoland Speedway media center with Fox Sports’ Vince Welch to talk to the media about being involved in the upcoming Fox broadcast of the Eldora Dirt Derby. Both drivers spend much of their off time racing sprint cars around the country, and they were asked why they still do it despite the recent injuries and fatalities that have come from the sport.
“I think bottom line is just because we love it,” Bell said. “You know, you could get hit by a car walking down the sidewalk, you know? It’s just unfortunate.”
Bell pointed out that racing is dangerous no matter the series.
“We’re race car drivers,” he said. “Racing’s not a safe sport, unfortunately. NASCAR has done a great job making it a lot safer and so have sprint cars — they’ve come a long way too, and you know, if you think about the pure numbers of what’s going on, you have 36 Cup races a year, and in the sprint car world you would have 90 Outlaw races a year. You have 60 All-Star races a year and hundreds and hundreds of local races a year, so there’s just a lot more sprint car racing going on. But I think the bottom line is just we love it.”
Larson agreed that the love of racing sprint cars trumped any inherent danger involved in racing the cars. He added that he puts it out of his mind when he gets behind the wheel.
“I don’t think about the bad stuff that could happen when I’m strapping into a race car,” he said. “I just love sprint car racing so much. I love racing so much. It’s just a drug and I don’t think about the negative things. I just enjoy doing it and think if you were to ever think about the negatives, that is where stuff can go wrong.”
Larson said one place NASCAR has really helped in the safety department is with the tracks that the top three series race on.
“I think that comes down to the series, whether it’s the World of Outlaws or All Stars or USAC or whatever could do a better job of not necessarily demanding that the tracks become safer, but I feel like sprint cars a lot of times people look at them being unsafe race cars,” Larson said. “But NASCAR stuff, they have made the tracks a lot safer, which has made the race cars seem a lot safer, which the race cars are a lot safer than they were a decade and a half ago. I think they have made just as many improvements to the race tracks as they have the race cars.”
“Where I think, sprint cars, we have continued to somewhat make the race cars safer with tethers and straps and safety bars and stuff like that, but I don’t really feel like we have done a whole lot to make the track safer,” Larson continued. “The tracks that have become safer, I feel like, are the tracks where they’ve had issues at. I think you look at Volusia, cars flipping into the crowd, and then you come back a year later and they’ve got an amazing catch fence. I just wish the tracks would be a little more proactive or the series to be more proactive in making sure that the facilities they are going to are safer.”
Sprint car racing is on the docket in Chicago this weekend too, as Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars will race at the neighboring Dirt Oval at Route 66. Stewart is scheduled to race in the event.
Both Larson and Bell said they will do something special for Johnson this weekend. Larson will run the commemorative logo that the World of Outlaws sent out last week. Bell said he will do something as well.