The news of NASCAR introducing a new requirement that will have teams installing high-speed cameras focused on the driver that will be set to record during crashes got us thinking: What is NASCAR going to do with all that footage? It will be treated as another source of crash data, used in tandem with a "black box" to analyze crash data for safety reasons, but could NASCAR find another use?
How should NASCAR handle its new in-car crash footage?
Use it to give fans more access (within reason). Let's be honest, the inevitable big crashes in NASCAR are part of the appeal. We are fascinated with dissecting every aspect of a crash. Slow motion replays of cars smashing into each other just speaks to something deep down inside us.
This footage, even though it is primarily for safety research purposes, could add another layer to the experience. Seeing what a crash is like from the inside of the car in high-def slow-motion could be really cool.
Here's the rub, though: NASCAR would need to use common sense. The footage should not be released if there is an injury in the wreck. Plain and simple. That eliminates any judgement calls about when the footage crosses the line. If everyone is ok, show as many angles of the intensity and violence of a crash as you have at your disposal. Cut it up and make a highlight video to be released during the week. Any time fans can get a closer look at the action is good for the sport.
NASCAR's implementation of high-speed cameras to record crashes will give executives a never-before-seen look at what causes crashes and how drivers are impacted. The cameras will give officials a way to analyze every detail of a crash, and it could lead to drivers being presented with techniques for how they can avoid crashes in certain situations.
Of course, now fans know NASCAR has all this additional footage, but it's unlikely fans will ever get to see it unless NASCAR reaches a deal to broadcast the footage. On the surface, that seems like a no-brainer decision. If fans can get a closer look at wrecks, they'll be more inclined to watch races. But NASCAR would also run the risk of showing potentially graphic footage, and it could run into a series of issues by revealing too much. The best solution might be filtering what they show to an audience. Let fans see the wrecks up close if there isn't graphic material, but withhold any gruesome injuries.
Another way NASCAR could put these cameras to work is by using them to monitor whether drivers sustain any concussions. The NFL has made many changes to its concussion protocol in recent years, and while it's still a work in progress, it's helping teams monitor head injuries more closely. Outside of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s concussions, you don't hear much about them in NASCAR. And just like the NFL, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to figure out that there are probably many concussions that go unreported during the year in NASCAR. These cameras could help determine if a driver suffers a head injury during a collision, and it would be revolutionary for racing if teams could learn that information. Drivers wouldn't like being told to leave the track for a concussion protocol, but if it benefited them long term, they would at least have to recognize the significance of learning they had a head injury.
Ray Marcano: Anthony and Cole each raise some good points, but I'm going to take a different approach. NASCAR shouldn't release any footage that comes via those cameras, fr several reasons. NASCAR isn't a public body that's subject to any open records laws, so it has no obligation to release the data. (NASCAR policy clearly states it owns the data and controls its "use and dissemination.") But beyond the lack of obligation, I see too many red flags in trying to determine what gets release/doesn't get released. If we draw the line at a wreck that causes an injury, what type of injury is acceptable to show and what wouldn't be acceptable? If a driver is in a wreck and is bloodied in the same way a boxer is bloodied in the ring, is that OK? What if the driver suffers a broken bone? What if he's in pain? What level of pain is acceptable to show? While NASCAR should always keep the fans in mind --- and provide as much information as possible -- the sport also wants to remain family friendly. Broadcasting images from any wreck is too fraught with issues, and can only do damage to the NASCAR brand.