Marbles: Reducing human error, NASCAR’s answer to F1

Editor’s Note~ This week’s Marbles (Reader Op Ed ) is from long-time reader Paul Kiefer Jr. Paul offers his thoughts on how NASCAR may be able to teach F1 a couple things regarding safe pit stops. Enjoy.


If we take a look at every pit road incident, we can trace them to one thing and one thing only:  Human error.  Humans are fallible, and there are times when this fallibility occurs at the worst possible moment.  It could be that a wheel-nut is loose, the tire doesn’t go on right, so someone wasn’t ready, yet they couldn’t alert the lollipop man in time.  Maybe there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on, so much so that something is missed, and disaster hits.

We are human, thus we are prone to error, susceptible to the dreaded incarnation of Murphy’s Law.  We live in fear of something going wrong.  In the world of Formula 1, such errors can have disastrous…even fatal…consequences.  Yet, when the governing body rectifies the sport, it seems that the situation becomes worse, and those authorities make themselves to appear incompetent.  What, then, is the answer?

Let us turn our attention to what has often become the bane of international motorsport:  NASCAR.  For all its foibles, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing does have some keen minds and has often come up with positive answers.  It adopted the HANS device, and that has saved many a driver since Dale Earnhardt, Sr. lost his life at Daytona.  It has the “SAFER Barrier System” that keeps cars on the track, for the most part, and lessens the impact by absorbing the blow.  So, it’s time for F1 to pay attention, and there are answers.

First, and most important, is that there are only four guys handling the tires.  Two guys with impact wrenches take off the lug nuts, then the guys handling the tires pull off the wheels, toss them back toward the pit wall and slap on a new wheel.  Such things can be done in 13 to 15 seconds.  In the hands of Formula 1, it could easily be ten seconds.  All that’s left to be done is to clear out the equipment and used tires, and off the driver goes.

Another thing that’s native to NASCAR is the use of officials inspecting the progress of a pit stop.  Officials watching things can point out any problems and issues that may create an unsafe release.  Last time the Daytona 500 was run, I saw an official wave his right arm in the air and point to a wheel that didn’t have its lug nuts completely secured.  They may have lost time while someone ran over and re-secured the lug nuts, but the costs in lives and damaged cars would have been much worse.  Formula 1 should look into assigning marshals to individual pit boxes to ensure that all pit crew members perform their jobs properly.  The increase in safety would be immeasurable.

If the FIA were smart, it would take a page or two from NASCAR and gain some valuable benefits for themselves, the pit crew, the drivers and any other person who happens to be in the pits.

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