Visibility, handling among challenges of Sprint Car drivers - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Visibility, handling among challenges of Sprint Car drivers

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Since the accident that ended in the death of Kevin Ward people have taken to social media, arguing about the circumstances around the death. Taking a look at the vehicles involved, though, may shed more light on the tragedy.

Ward was killed at a dirt track in Canandaigua when racing in a Sprint Cup event on Saturday, Aug. 9. Ward's spun into the wall after being hit by Stewart's winged car. When the young driver climbed out and stepped onto the track Stewart's car seemed to fishtail, throwing Ward through the air and leading to his death.

Some fans are questioning if Stewart, who is known for his hot temper, attempted to clip Kevin, or if Ward recklessly risked his life by stepping onto the dirt track in a low-visibility outfit.

FOX28's Dean Huppert wanted to get a closer look at the sprint cars involved with the tragedy, not to solve the case or defend Stewart but rather to shed more light on the types of cars involved in the tragedy

James McFadden, a Winged Sprint Car Driver said he has been racing for nearly his whole life, and he understands the difficulty of driving the vehicles.

 “Sprint car racing is my life and it has been ever since I was a young boy when my dad raced,” McFadden said. “To me it's the best sport in the world."   

James McFadden is a young driver from Australia who started racing go carts at the age of 7.  Joe Gaerte is a car owner, former driver and owner of one of the primary engine builders in Sprint Car racing.   While neither racing expert wanted to comment on the accident at Canadaigua, both want to educate people about these cars.

During Sprint Car races the cars go anywhere from 35 to 45 miles per hour during a caution lap. Gaerte said this slow speed is actually more dangerous for the drivers because the cars are not designed for that speed.

  "[The cars are] not wanting to turn, they're not even wanting to go straight at that point. They're designed to be running wide open 100 miles per hour.”

Part of this difficulty, McFadden said, is because of how the motors operate.

  "They work off of the RPM of the motor, so the more throttle you run the easier steering is,” McFadden said.

Sprint cars have powerful V-8 engines. They can weigh more than 1200 pounds and are fueled by methanol.  Even touching the accelerator 1/2 inch can throw the driver back in his seat.

"I guess the biggest example is what form of four wheel motor sport can your wheel stand in, McFadden said. “With the throttle I can pick the front wheels up when I kind of wanted. There's nothing quite like it. I think I think they've got a better power weight ratio than the formula one cars.”

Sprint Cars have a different steering mechanism than most racing cars. The power steering gets re-primed by stepping on the gas pedal. As a result, the slower you go, the less steering you have.

 "The power steering doesn't work that good,” McFadden said. “The car jumps around and the fact that they're so light and not much throttle application for me means so much and it seems kind of an untamable beast."

James said the steering is only one of the difficult parts about the cars.

“The famous four wide salute the sprint cars do is probably the hardest part of racing,” McFadden said. “Being able to see the cars on your right side and just idling around is hard. You probably got more wheel work than you do when you're racing alone.”

 Another huge difference from any other race car is the staggered tires.  The right rear is much bigger than the left.  Gaerte said this helps drivers maximize control through the corners.

"Basically this is all one axle so you got your difference in your staggered to make it turn the corner," Gaerte said.

The biggest challenge of racing Sprint Cars may be the visibility. 

“There are a lot of race tracks the lights shine right square in your eyes," Gaerte said.

"Sitting in the car right now I can't see the front wheels so from there you're blind,” McFadden added.

The full containment seat inside sprint cars comes all the way down the right side. The wing also comes down the right side too. Drivers only have an inch of movement on either side of their head between the seat when drivers have their helmets on.

"There's been numerous times when I drove back in the day you can hardly see the flag man sometimes at certain angles,” Gaerte said.

One piece of equipment that racers use to help with visibility does not always work. Racers use replaceable visor covers to keep their visors from being scratched.

"Sometimes the dust can get in between the tear offs,” McFadden said. “Your visor can get scratched. The lighting can be bad. Obviously visibility is not much.”

The Ontario County sheriff's office is currently investigating the case. Even if Stewart is not charged with any crimes in this case, he mat still face a civil case from the Ward Family.

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