Lug nuts – how many is too few?
In 2015, NASCAR pit crews, at their discretion, will be able to install less than five lug nuts when changing tires. Teams have been told that any advantage gained by executing a quicker pit stop will have to be balanced with the added risk of developing a poor handling race car with a tire vibration or losing the tire all together. It seems as though this issue has been debated from a competition standpoint without regard to competitor or spectator safety, and that is wrong.
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I was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 1987 when Roberto Guerrero’s car hit a loose wheel from Tony Bettenhausen’s car and punted it to the top row of grandstand K, killing a spectator from Wisconsin.
I was at Michigan International Speedway on July 26, 1998 when a tire and wheel assembly went into a spectator area and killed three fans during a CART race. It happened in the section next to mine. I saw the accident, I saw the spectators and I saw track personnel quickly evacuate that section and cover it with a tarp. Sadly, I also knew what had happened.
On May 1, 1999, three fans were killed at what was then Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC when a tire went into the stands at an Indy Racing League event.
I realize all of the three examples above are of open-wheeled races where the tires are exposed and the chances of punting one to an area where people can be killed or injured is much greater than in NASCAR events. However, they all share one thing in common — a missing or loose lug nut, either by way of a mechanical failure or accident, led to the tire becoming loose in the first place.
Kyle Larson’s car sheds parts at the finish of a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Installing less than five lug nuts increases the possibility of the wheel becoming loose or coming off. Nobody disputes that. The risk increases with each lug omitted — installing four lugs is more dangerous than installing all five. Installing three is more dangerous than four, etc. Loose or separated wheels pose a danger to competitors on the track. They pose a danger to spectators, team members and track personnel if they are hit by a car and propelled into those areas. Nobody disputes this, either.
Competitors and team members accept and understand the inherent risks of this sport. Each fan, by use of their ticket, agrees to the disclaimers and fine print on the back of those tickets that almost always contains language similar to “your participation in this sporting event as a spectator is at your own risk.” I get it. We attend these events because we love the sport.
What I cannot understand is that with all of the safety enhancements that NASCAR has championed throughout the years, why do they ignore facts that prove that five lugs are safer than anything less? Why would they abandon that rule? Why are they jeopardizing safety? The level of competitiveness in this sport has never been greater. Allowing teams to deviate from the safest number of lugs if they so choose is irresponsible. Brian France, Mike Helton, Robin Pemberton and all three series directors need to re-evaluate this rule now, before a tragedy occurs.
Do you agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts below!