New NASCAR rules have roots in local tracks

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NASCAR has announced new rules for driver conduct after a crash after the deadly accident involving Tony Stewart and sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

When a crash occurs, NASCAR says drivers are to shut off the car and lower the window net if they're not injured, then wait for directions from safety workers or NASCAR officials. After a driver is told to get out of their car, they should go directly to the ambulance or track vehicle and not approach any other race cars on the track.

NASCAR will determine a punishment for drivers who violate the rules. But the rules apply to NASCAR, not to sprint cars like the ones Stewart and Ward were driving last weekend.

The tragedy that prompted NASCAR's safety rule changes occurred at a track very similar to the Anderson Speedway. The owner says many times, NASCAR learns from what happens at these smaller tracks.

Drivers can go as fast as they can around the banked quarter-mile track. But if they wreck, they better stay in their car.

This year, only one driver has broken owner Rick Dawson's long-standing rule.

"He's under suspension for doing so," Dawson said.

"He can't race here?" I asked.

"Not right now," he answered.

They say when you put a safety helmet on, your personality changes, so I tried it out, from the passenger seat of a race truck with veteran driver Mike Roberts behind the wheel.

We were alone on the track running at better than 70 miles an hour. If it were race night, we would be wheel-to-wheel with 30 other cars or trucks on pavement barely three lanes wide and only big enough to circle a football field. Even a rookie can see there's no room for impulsive anger.

Afterwards we spoke with another driver, Andrew Cook.

"Did you ever want to get out of your car?" I asked.

"Yeah, maybe," he said with half a smile.

The battle scars on Cook's street stock car are reasons why. Though banged up, Cook says he's never jumped out to tangle with a rival driver.

Even under a yellow caution flag, he said, "There's not a lot of room out there. They come whippin' around, there is not a lot of room for error."

Like mistakes that ended the life of driver Kevin Ward.

The tragedy and NASCAR's new hard line are likely to change to change rules and attitudes as smaller track.

"They don't want to see things like that. They don't want to be part of it," Dawson said.

But feuding and fighting are part of autosports. In a choice between entertainment and safety, NASCAR says safety wins.

Roberts says so does the sport.

"When fans see someone get out of the car and express their anger, I don't believe the fans like it. The sport needs all the fans it can get," he said.

When drivers lose sight of safety, Dawson shows them the infield grave of a track worker killed in a race accident.

One of the drivers we spoke with says if racers want to give fans what they really want, the only time they should get out of the car is to give them autographs.