Commentary

How to crash

When slamming into things is a basic risk, you'd better have a plan

Updated: February 9, 2011, 10:48 AM ET
By Eric Morse | ESPN The Magazine

Quarterbacks get sacked, batters get plunked and racers, well, they crash. It's never something to anticipate, but when slamming into things is a basic risk of a sport, you'd better have a plan to ensure you can make next week's event.

NASCAR

In stock cars, you can be chasing down the leader one minute and swerving to avoid a loose car drifting up the track the next.

(1) If a crash is inevitable, take your hands off the wheel to avoid injury to your thumbs or wrists. If you're still steering the car, make sure your thumb doesn't close on the wheel. Leave it resting on the top of the wheel so it doesn't get jammed in the middle when you hit something.

(2) Keep pressure on the brakes, but don't fully extend your legs. Tensing up will make you more vulnerable to injury. Lean your head into the impact so that your helmet is up against the absorbent material in the seat and headrest.

(3) Once you've hit the wall, try to keep the car against it. Sliding down the track exposes you to being struck by another car. Still, be prepared for a secondary impact and leave your belts on until all cars have passed. You don't want to be fiddling with switches or taking off the steering wheel if another car drills you.

(4) Upside down? Chances are, your car will eventually dig in and begin to barrel roll. Flip up your visor and grip the lower part of your helmet with both hands. This will keep your head from bouncing around and will also keep your hands tethered safely.

(5) On fire? Stop the car immediately, remove the steering wheel, undo the seat belts and take down the window net. Before you climb out, with your helmet and HANS device still on, don't forget to unhook your radio, air hose and drinking tube or you'll get hooked.

(6) Big crash in front of you? Don't panic. "Jumping on the brakes is 100% the wrong thing to do," says Cup driver Jeff Burton. "A lot of wrecks happen because the guy behind you doesn't see it as well, and slowing down only makes that worse." Just let off the gas and try to steer clear of trouble without swerving wildly.


IndyCar

There's not a lot of trading paint in IndyCar, but if you know you're going to get hit (or hit something), there are steps to keep your hands and wrists injury-free.

(1) Remove your hands from the wheel and make an "X" across your chest. Indy vet Tomas Scheckter calls it The Macarena. The point is to bust a move before it busts you.

(2) Grab onto your shoulder harness -- because even if you flip, your arms won't go flying around the cockpit. This tactic is also used by some NASCAR drivers, but it's even more crucial in open- wheel due to the violent mechanical reaction. "When you touch the wall, it will whiplash the steering wheel," says driver Helio Castroneves. "You can break your wrists, your thumbs or your hands because it's like putting them in a moving fan."


NHRA

NHRA wrecks happen at higher speeds than wrecks in most other motorsports and when something goes wrong, it can get nasty quickly. An explosion or fire may jettison the body, leaving the driver hurtling inside a metal skeleton at 300 mph.

(1) Keep your mouth closed so you don't inhale the smoke or fire. With one hand on the steering wheel, keep working on the hand brake.

(2) Assuming they're intact, push the buttons to shut off the fuel, release the chutes and hit the engine kill switch. If fire is already a concern, then you can deploy the fire extinguisher in the car.

(3) If the chutes and brakes are compromised, then a driver has what is called a runaway freight train. Funny Car driver and 15-time champ John Force says that in that event, you should scrub the wall. "Screw the car. You kill speed by scrubbing the car against the wall. A lot of drivers got fired over the years for ruining race cars doing that, but now we tell drivers not to think about saving the car."

(4) Stay in the car until it's stopped, and keep an eye out for safety personnel. The amount of smoke caused by a crashing dragster can obscure the view of arriving medics, and they could easily run over a driver who has bailed out of a smoking wreck.


MotoGP

Riders can be thrown from their bikes at speeds up to 130 mph. When the front tire loses grip -- the most likely scenario -- the rider is already close to the pavement and is likely to slide.

(1) Thanks to race suits that would impress an armadillo, you can kiss the pavement and keep most of your skin. But there is an art to sliding. "You want to kind of move around on your back or your stomach," says Yamaha Factory rider Ben Spies.

(2) Try to roll and shift positions during the slide. Skidding a long distance in the same position can cause the protective gear to heat up from the friction of the pavement and burn you.

(3) If you find yourself still on the racing surface once you skid to a halt, the best thing to do is stand up and be still. Give the other riders a chance to see you. You'll feel pretty stupid (and sore) if you escape the wreck without injury only to get run over trying to run to safety.