Corvette Z06 Forum banner

1 - 7 of 7 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,573 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Fatality at Driver Education event this weekend.
User account number (aid): 1150 Advertiser
Posted by Todd/A.W.E. on 2005-08-01 08:32:52
A member of our local Porsche Club was killed while driving during an event held at Watkins Glen International raceway this past weekend.

While the details of the crash are still under investigation, reports gathered during our instructor meeting at the track indicate that the driver lost control under braking in the "laces of the boot" area of the track.

The crash was a single car incident. It was head-on into the tire barrier at the bottom of this downhill turn. Reports confirm that the driver's helmet was partially removed from his head after the crash, but remained intact.

The driver was in our green run group, which is our beginner run group. Speeds in this turn are around 70-80mph for beginning drivers.

I am making this post because the hobby of attending Driver Education events at racetracks has grown tremendously over the last decade, and I know a lot of forum members here participate in them.

For those people who may not be familiar with Driver Education events, they are organization run lapping days at racetracks. You bring your own car and run at speed with other cars on the racetrack. Passing is limited to straight-aways and only with a permission signal from the driver being passed. They are not competitions, and therefore do not really qualify as a sport. They are for enjoyment and for furthering one's skills as a driver.

I have been participating in track events for 13 years, and am a nationally certified driving instructor with the Porsche Club of America (PCA). I have been driving primarily with the local Porsche Club region, the Riesentöter Region of the PCA. I have also driven with at least a dozen other PCA club regions, Audi clubs, and independent driving clubs throughout the years, and have instructed at most of them, too.

Our club is one of the better ones in terms of organization and safety, in my opinion. I say this not to criticize the other clubs, but to show that even in the best run organizations, fatal incidents can happen during Driver Education events.

In our club, a minimum of five point safety harnesses are required for the intermediate run group and higher. We have five run groups, and the first two qualify as beginner. Helmets must be a Snell Rating of 95 or 2000 and all drivers must wear long sleeve natural fiber shirts and pants as a minimum. We have no other requirements as far as safety, but most experienced drivers do use many more safety items in their cars or on their bodies, such as racing seats, neck collars, nomex race suits and boots/gloves, roll bars/cages, and neck support devices.

This incident may cause our club to change our safety equipment mandates, or it may not. What concerns me is that there may not be a full realization among participants on how risky this hobby can be. If a fatality can happen at the beginner level of our club, it can happen in any other club, too. Ultimately, unless clubs start instituting stricter minimum requirements, it is up to you as the driver to ensure that you are properly equipped for safety. Currently, the minimum requirements may not be enough.

Reports at the track from eyewitnesses to the crash and the immediate aftermath suggest that a neck support device may have saved this man's life. I am nervous to state this in public, as it may be premature considering that no official coroner report has been issued, and the incident is at this time still under investigation. But I was at the track, and the information that prompts me to make this statement is not from third or fourth hand accounts, altered or blurred as it passes from person to person. It is the best info available at the time, and I do not feel that the recommendation for more safety devices can be reckless. I do not want to suggest that the driver was somehow negligent in not using a neck support device, either, as I myself have not been using one, not have most of the instructors, let alone drivers, that I see at events. I know that it is treading almost on forbidden territory to start making conclusions or statements about someone's death so soon after it happened and how it possibly could have been prevented, and I thought long and hard about writing this. I am writing this with the best intentions and due respect.

There are a few neck support devices on the market at this time. They gained in use especially after Dale Earnhardt died in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001. It is commonly believed that Dale died of a basilar skull fracture, which has become recognized as a very common cause of death among race drivers. Whether or not a neck support device would have saved Dale, this device was designed to minimize the chance of this type of injury. With the Watkins Glen fatality this past weekend, the fact that the driver's helmet had lifted forward off his head in a frontal impact may suggest that a neck support device may have helped here, too. I am not qualified to make definitive conclusions about this incident, but once again, I do not feel that I am out of line suggesting more safety when participating in these type of events.

In all the years I have been participating in Driver Education events, I have only witnessed two injuries serious enough to require emergency medical treatment and hospitalization. Considering the number of track days I have attended and the number of participants these events assemble, that is not a lot. This past weekend was a wake up call for a lot of us. Many of my fellow instructors were in tears, as was I, and all of us were in shock and disbelief.

If you plan on attending a Driver Education event for the first time, or have been attending them for years, please take the extra time to reassess your safety protocols. A lot of safety equipment is still expensive, but any piece of equipment that is certified has been proven to provide protection for the driver if used properly. Neck support devices are still an expensive piece of equipment, and there are three different designs that I know of, but I now believe that they should be on the short list of mandatory pieces of equipment, even for first timers. Instructors should note, however, that not every design allows use with three point safety belts, and a lot of beginner drivers requiring instructors only have these type of belts in their cars. Perhaps five point harnesses should now be mandatory even for even first timers.

Bengt-Erik Wilholm, the driver killed this weekend, was a customer of ours. Our prayers are with his family.

Todd Sager
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,333 Posts
A sad day indeed...for all concerned.

Godspeed Beje.

Charlie
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
5,534 Posts
Very Sad, Thoughts go out to the family of Bengt-Erik Wilhom. Todd I have considered the DE event seriously, especially after hearing how much fun they are. Tom ( Backlash ) and Jose (Jem) have been trying to get me out there for two years. This will have an impact on the equipment I do purchase when the time comes. Thank you for posting this....
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
561 Posts
Very sad and scary. I am running the AMG Challenge at Limerock on Monday and am concerned enough as it is about wrecking Mercedes' cars, let alone myself.
 
1 - 7 of 7 Posts
Top