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RACING FOR SAFETY
Kenneth Rudeen
October 19, 1959
At Lime Rock, Connecticut the sports car road track has an ulterior purpose—to serve as a laboratory and testing ground for better highways
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October 19, 1959

Racing For Safety

At Lime Rock, Connecticut the sports car road track has an ulterior purpose—to serve as a laboratory and testing ground for better highways

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"Lacking the kind of scientific data we really need, we have drawn upon the best expert opinion available to us in devising safety measures at Lime Rock. They include a conventional paved escape road at the end of the homestretch [see map] and an escape area outside Big Bend. A sand bank and a guard rail protect the timer's stand at the approach to the esses. The esses have wide escape areas, and a sand bank borders the zigzag to the climbing turn. Here a high bank on the outside is essentially a deceleration barrier—one that has seen much use. Guard rails, upended hay bales and escape areas are provided where needed along the rest of the course.

"Having spent 11 years in racing, I have arrived at certain basic convictions about race courses in general—some popularly held and some so obscure that they are hardly discussed. First, spectator areas must be inviolate. Very substantial physical barriers should always lie between the spectators and the competing cars, since the cars might leave the road at any point on a circuit. No immovable obstacle, such as a tree, should lie in the possible escape routes of the cars. Blind curves are an invitation to accidents. They should never be a part of courses meant to be used by weekend drivers of average ability. Also, the pits should always be at points beyond the influence of curves.

"These are elementary considerations. They should be reinforced as soon as possible by the long-overdue data that can come only from the engineers.

"Road racing will never be completely safe for the competitors, any more than such potentially dangerous sports as football and skiing. There is not a shadow of a doubt, however, that it can be appreciably safer than it is today. If the lessons of the race course are given close and effective scientific study, every motorist, as well as every racing driver, will greatly benefit."

Breaking new ground in individual driver training as well as safety experimentation, Fitch has recently begun a unique program of personal advanced instruction. It has many merits, but uppermost is the fact that the student is forced to react to a variety of emergency situations. Confronted with similar emergencies in highway driving, he would be far better equipped to solve his difficulties and save the situation—and his skin—than the average motorist.

The problems in the way of realizing this kind of training on a mass basis are of course considerable—like having first-rate golf pros available to all golfers for concentrated lessons, and on a much larger scale. The cost alone would be a considerable obstacle. At Lime Rock the fee for one two-hour session is $50 if the student provides the car, $75 if Lime Rock provides it. But, as noted above, the Lime Rock program is a beginning, and one worthy of study.

QUITE AN EYE OPENER

Students who have taken the Fitch training course so far—81 to date, including many professional and military men—have generally found it to be quite an eye opener. They have gotten a big kick out of it, too, as did this writer when he ventured out on the course with Fitch the other day in a perky Alfa Romeo Veloce sedan to take the lesson.

The Alfa, a 110-mph sports touring car, is sure-footed and kind to those of small technique—a category that includes the writer—yet worthy of a master driver's touch. With helmets adjusted, seat belts fastened and Fitch calling signals from the passenger's seat, we first went swooping around a triangular area at the end of the homestretch, faster and faster on the sandy pavement until the car would break traction and slide. The problem was to "lose" it, as one might by misjudging the speed at which a slick highway curve could be safely taken, and then to regain control in time to avert a crash.

In this way the student quickly learns his car's habits in one of the most common emergencies, and is prepared to cope with the situation.

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