February 26, 2013

Editorial: Overreaction, as usual


---- — As is usual in these circumstances, calls have gone out for new, somewhat radical safety measures because some spectators got hurt watching a stock-car race last weekend. 

Watching a stock-car race — or just about any other sport, for that matter — carries with it some risk, and trying to minimize the chances of a fan getting hurt will likely either not work very well or diminish the experience for people lucky enough to get track-side seats.

NASCAR has this odd scheduling quirk whereby it sets up its biggest event of the year as its first event of the year. This is at odds with other sports, which culminate their seasons with their showcase playoffs and championship events.

At any rate, the sports world was watching on Saturday, the day before the Daytona 500, during a lesser race — the opener of the Nationwide Series — when a 12-car pileup propelled Kyle Larson’s car bit by bit into the stands at the track’s edge.

Elaborate fencing absorbed much of the debris, but more than 30 people were injured, to one extent or another. A dozen, or so, were taken to area hospitals, and, by Monday, reports indicated the injuries were not serious.

Almost immediately, speculation unfolded about the safety of sitting so close to the track. Should NASCAR and other racing bodies move spectators back so they’d be out of the line of fire?

Here are some of the questions we have about those suggestions:

Exactly how far back would be regarded as safe?

What about the fans who crave track-side seating, even if some risk may be involved?

How often do fans get hurt? Is this much ado about very little, after all?

What about the hundreds of local tracks across the country? While the speeds at most of those tracks don’t approach Daytona 500 territory, the drivers are less accomplished, meaning risks at those venues are probably similar. Should the management at those tracks be forced to invest all the money required to reconfigure their stands?

Fans have seen baseballs ricochet off the head of other spectators at baseball games.

Basketball players have famously charged into stands to in trying to save the ball or, occasionally, to accost taunting spectators or each other, all at considerable peril to the paying customers.

Hockey fans are always in danger of having vulnerable body parts collide with streaking pucks.

How about golf galleries?

The truth is that sports fans value the idea of being as close to the action as possible, willing to pay big for front-row seats.

Have spectators sign waivers of responsibility, if necessary. Check to see whether changes to the fencing could provide more safety at stock-car races.

But don’t overreact to one freak accident with maneuvers that will forever diminish the thrill of being on top of the event.