Racing Around: Speedway safety crews review new technology, protocols


Safety crew members from local raceways practice releasing the support anchors on a helmet at a Safety Crew training session Saturday at DKM Frabrication in Hagaman.

By James A. Ellis/For The Leader-Herald

Safety for the drivers at the local speedways has come a long way.

The development of full containment seats, on-board fire suppression systems, full-face helmets and the HANS device (head and neck support device) are just a few developments introduced in recent years.

The necessary changes also brought new challenges for the track safety crews.

“We had an accident last year where the driver had to be extricated from the car after a hard hit into the wall,” Fonda Speedway track safety team leader Terri Mohrman said. “We had issues with the safety strap connecting his helmet to his HANS device so that we could communicate with him. We ended up cutting the straps so we could talk with him and safely extricate him from the car.”

The following week Mohrman and her crew, known as the Teal Suits, went to each driver’s pit area and found there were at least six different styles of clips being used to connect the driver’s helmets and HANS devices.

“It did kind of surprise us,” she said. “I contacted Savannah Weaver at Simpson/Holley, Farin Jervis at Necksgen and John Gaskins at HMS Motorsports, producers of the safety equipment, and they were extremely helpful. They sent samples of their helmet support anchor products so that we could see how they work and that they are properly used so we can quickly gain access to the driver when necessary.”

Saturday, the crews from Fonda, Utica-Rome and Brookfield speedways gathered at the DKM Fabrication shop in Hagaman to review procedures and get hands-on practice with the new technology.

“We [the EMTs] are relying on people who know the cars to shut the power off, take the steering wheel off, remove the roof and do whatever needs to be done. We are taking care of the patient. So I feel with more multiple car accidents and more people on the team, I want every one of us to know where things are and what is going on. It took six of us, including the firefighters, to help at that accident. It took longer because we had never seen that type of helmet anchor and did not know how to disconnect it. That really bothered me.”

The safety crews not only face the challenge of different chassis manufacturers but assorted styles of race cars ranging from modifieds, pro stocks, street stocks and mini stocks to different classes of methanol burning sprint cars and slingshots.

Mohrman said that Mike Emhoff, owner and operator of CRSA (Capital Region Sprint Association), helped by discussing the structure and location of different functions of a sprint car. Slingshot developer Rich Tobias Jr. was also contacted and advised on the setup of a slingshot and what to look for when accidents happen.

Both Emhoff and Tobias pointed out another challenge that track safety crews could be faced with in the near future as electric powered slingshots and sprint cars are being developed.

Another challenge addressed Saturday was assessment and treatment protocols for younger racers.

“They may not understand what you are asking them right away,” Mohrman said. “One of the first things you have to do is tell them to take a couple of deep breaths to calm them down and that you are there to help. The majority won’t be able to tell you on a scale of one to 10 how bad do you hurt, but they will tell you what does hurt. Sometimes you also have to calm the parents and crews, which is understandable, since it is their kid who is in that car.”

Slingshot driver Colton White and his father Cory provided their slingshot at the session so the safety crews could see firsthand how the driver sits in the car, where the fuel cell and battery are located and other safety devices built into the machine.

Colton brought his hybrid-HANS device and served as an injured driver for the crew to practice a technique of extricating a driver safely from the tight confines of a slingshot.

The crews were instructed by EMT/fireman Nick Squires on the proper procedure to shut off the power and fuel on the cars and to stay aware of your surroundings as sometimes the cars are under caution on the track and you often have your back to the cars.

“I want to thank Eric Mack and Dave Constantino, owners and operators of DKM Fabrication for providing us with an indoor area once again to do our training. Their commitment to driver safety is certainly appreciated by our group as we have been here now for several years,” said Mohrman.

The Teal Suits working the speedways include team leader Mohrman, a 40 year EMT, Bonnie Reuss, Amy Siedel, Scott Able, all EMTs, paramedic’s Dwayne Gallt, Heather Juzwinski and Cathy Able; EMT/firefighters Squires, Jeremy Horstemyer as well as paramedic/firefighter Al Moxam, firefighters Andrew Fiumano, Connor Conifka, Johnathan Brisbane, Matt Traut and Andy Peo and CCT Jill Dunham.

Fonda Speedway will open for its 72nd consecutive season and fifth under the direction of Brett Deyo and BD Motorsports Media on April 22 with the 40-lap, $12,000-to-win Jack Johnson Memorial Montgomery County Open. The annual car show will be held at the Viaport Rotterdam March 24-26.

Glen Ridge Motorsports Park will welcome race fans to its inaugural Sprint Fling car show and meet and greet day on April 23 with a practice session scheduled for April 30 and opening night scheduled for May 7.

Utica-Rome Speedway, in its third season under promotership of Brett Deyo, will open on April 21 with the Honoring Alex for modifieds.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway is scheduled to open for the 2023 season on April 14, while Lebanon Valley Speedway will debut its upgraded racing surface on April 29.

Glen Ridge Motorsports Park announced that the DIRTcar 358 modified division as a weekly addition to its race program this season.

The track hosted a 358-modified race in 2022 with Lance Willix taking home the checkers.

A highlight for the division will be the Mohawk Valley DIRTcar 358 Showdown as part of the DIRTcar 358 Modified Series.

The Ridge is also scheduled to host DIRTcar Sportsman and Pro Stock series events this season with the dates yet to be announced.

After a highly successful 10-year go-kart and slingshot-racing career, St. Johnsville’s Kirsten Swartz is making the move to the Limited Sportsman division this season at Glen Ridge and Fonda Speedways.

Swartz competed in a limited sportsman feature last season at The Ridge, coming home with a fifth place finish.

Stewart Friesen announced that Ferris Commercial Mowers has signed on to sponsor the Craftsman Truck Series No. 52 at Texas Motor Speedway, on the dirt at Bristol, North Wilkesboro, World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, Nashville and on the Milwaukee Mile. For those races, the Halmar/Friesen Racing truck will carry a red paint scheme instead of the traditional bright blue.

Friesen is kicking off his 2023 racing season this week with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series at Volusia Speedway Park on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The race will be broadcast live on DIRTVision.

By LH Staff

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