Roof racing is racing slang
for any time a car is turned over on its roof, due to contact, hitting an earth feature at the wrong angle, or simply some low obsturction at speed (like a wall
). Racers only use the term 'roof racing' when all ended well, meaning no one got hurt. When racing began, driver protection such as a roll cage
and fuel cell
didn't exist and many drivers didn't even use seatbelts! Any flip constituted a life threatening situation. Safety equipment has done a great deal to protect drivers. Bur cars rarely flip at low speeds. Flips often involve some form of impact, and any impact hard enough to flip a car carries risk. Race officials treat them very seriously, and all flips are grounds for declaring an emergency
Let me provide some personal experince from roof racing episodes where I was the first responder. I was working corner station 8 at the center of the esses at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course. It was an SCCA regional race, and all drivers begin at the regional level.. We had been watching a Triumph racing in F Production that was having trouble doing that particular corner, partly because of the off camber entrance. He'd gotten on two wheels a couple times,before looking smoother. We thought he was figuring the track out when he ran out of talent in the middle of the corner. The triumph hung gently on two wheels for a second, and I thought the car was going to come back down, but then she went over landing upside down on the roll bar. Nice and easy.
I was working blue flag so it was my turn to grab the firebottle and run. I crawled under the car and asked the driver if he was okay. He was hanging upside down his his harness. He replied, "I'm fine. Turn me over! Turn me over!"
Clearly he was unhurt. Just as clearly, he was mainlining on adrenalin, which is about normal during a race. He wanted me to just lift up his car, flip it over and he'd happily motor off.
I told him that I really couldn't do that, and he didn't get angry, which drivers often do when their blood is up. After an incident they're ticked at themselves and sometimes take it out on you, the closest available target. Not this guy, though. I checked that his switches were off, and took his steering wheel. I had him brace himself while I popped his belts. You have to do that when a guy's hanging upside down. A friend of mine popped his own belts in that position, and piledrove his head into the roof. Knocked himself dizzy. But this guy did what I asked, and crawled out the side I chose, which was the side opposite the track.
When we crawled out, there were two firemen kneeling behind me, fire extinguishers already aimed. The ambulance crew waited right behind them. You see, roof racing's a serious thing. Have a bad flapper valve in your fuel cell and you've just dumped a bunch of gas near hot pipes. Crashes can be caused by a physical problem, like a heart attack. It happens. You can't take chances when a car is on its roof.
Another story came when I was working Turn One at Nelson's Ledges Road Course for a Porsche Club of America race weekend. On Saturday Porsche Club does practice starts before the real race start, though if you advance you get to keep your position. Which must have tempted one aggressive soul in a 944. Turn One is a mighty fast corner, but it is a real corner. He came in way too hot. and went almost straight off. Straight to the tire wall. Over the tire wall, and onto his roof.
So I called Race Control and informed them I had an emergency, and requested an ambulance, fire truck and wrecker. About a minute later the driver emerged from his car, which I also passed on, to Control's evident relief. After all, a driver who can exit his own race car probably is probably in decent heath. Probably.
At this point our intrepid driver slammed his helmet to the ground, and began doing the lambada next to his overturned car. No two year old ever threw a more impressive tantrum. I called control to inform him that this driver was doing the bunny hop.
"Control to Two, does he look hurt." (We call the Turn 1 corner station Turn 2 for reasons unknown to me.)
Control's request was reasonable. People do flop around a bit when they're in pain. But I was pretty certain his primary injuries were a fractured ego and a lacerated wallet. Not to mention a bruised Porsche. "Control, from where I stand he looks extremely pissed."
You could hear the laughter in the control room through the mikes. The emergency equipment arrived, pronounced the driver livid, and removed both him and his car to the paddock.
Next year I bought a race car. My friend Redline called the local chief of tech over to do the annual tech on my race car. Basically it's an annual safety inspection all cars must pass before they can race. He was a nice man, and while perusing my roll cage mentioned and how he'd flipped at Mid Ohio. It was the Triumph driver, the one who had wanted a flipped back upright so he could get back into the race. I grinned, and told him that I was the guy who'd crawled under his car, adding a few details he'd somehow omitted. Like the "Turn me over" part. He turned beet red, but grinned and stamped my logbook. You meet a lot of good people in the SCCA.
Update: During the 2004 running of the Daytona 500 there was a multi-car accident. Michael Waltrip ended up sliding sidways on the grass until his wheels dug in and he rolled many times, destroying his race car. He too ended up on the roof. I watched the rescue on TV, and became worried when I saw how the safety workers were swarming over the car. I became even more worried when I saw they hydraulic lines for the jaws-of-life deployed. It is a heavy tool used to cut structural members on cars so that the passengers can be extracted.
Eventually they lifted the car upright, and Waltrip emerged unhurt. But later he was quite angry with the safety workers, accusing them of incompetence because they didn't just listen to him and flip the car over right away. As he put it, "I'd rolled more about six times already so one more wasn't going to hurt."
On one hand he had a point. Drivers in a modern race car are wrapped in protective steel or carbon fiber. A professional level driver seat is form fitted to the individual driver-- in formula cars it is a liquid which is literally poured around the driver while he or she is in the car. A hans device does a really nice job of immobilizing the head in all dimensions, and with a properly tightened five or six point harness the driver isn't going anywhere. Easier to move the car.
However, the race worker doesn't assume the driver is unhurt. Quite the opposite, in fact.. Many are paramedics in real life. Paramedics practice extracting people from street cars, which don't have such niceties as roll cages or a racing harness. You flip the car over under those conditions and you may cut the spinal cord. I train doing flips and extractions every year. They are all different, and i have not yet---- knock on wood-- had to do one where the cage was half buried in the turf.
When bars have visibly bent the car has taken a very serious impact and the sensible thing to do is assume the driver has been hurt and proceed accordingly. After all, it won't hurt him to sit there a little longer, but it might injure or kill him if there's a rush. So the first thing to do is assess the driver's medical condition. First you try to find out if he knows where he is, by asking simple questions like, name, date, location. Then you try to find any injury. Numbness may represent some post-accident psychological shock. Shock may indicate a spinal injury and can mask pain. Second, a driver hanging upside down may have an injury they are not aware of. They have a lot of things going through their mind: fear, impatience, anger, what happened and how. They may not have taken the time to assess themselves. You have to help them do this, which isn't always easy as drivers get touchy after they crash. So you have to calm them down, and get them to answer your questions, which include listing their extremities, one by one.
Needless to say this takes time, and close access to the driver, which isn't always so easy to achieve. If the driver co-operates, and all seems well, by all means hook up the wrecker and roll the car back on its wheels.
I don't fault the NASCAR safety crews for this. I fault Waltrip for becoming impatient. So to Michael I say this: Once you leave the racing surface, you aren't in charge of the situation any more. I am, or whoever else has run after you. You work on my timetable. if there is no immediate danger of fire, I'm taking my time. After all, it's your life at stake.