Every day thousands of planes land safely at airports around the country and we never hear a word about it. There are no glaring newspaper headlines, no program-interrupting news flashes on radio and TV:
“BULLETIN: A jetliner in-bound from Los Angeles carrying 266 passengers has just set down at O’Hare Airport without the slightest hitch. After the flawless landing, Captain Buzz Skywalker said it was one of the smoothest flights he’s ever taken in 25 years as a professional pilot …”
No, there are never any stories about planes that land safely.
That’s why we didn’t hear much about the biggest story in NASCAR this season: all of its planes landed safely.
That’s not to say there weren’t some rocky rides, some incidents when cars flipped, rolled, crashed and smashed. Some of the gravity-defying tumbles looked scary. But not a single driver was injured, and in stock car racing that counts as a safe landing.
The fact that some of the crashes left cars totally destroyed and yet nobody was hurt is testament to NASCAR’s continued commitment to make the sport as safe as humanly possible.
In the old days – or even just a decade ago – there was no way a driver could have walked away from some of the wrecks we’ve seen in the past few seasons. Now they do, and almost routinely.
To me that’s the most important story of the season: not a single driver was injured. There were a few bumps and bruises but nothing worse than you might get in a backyard football game.
The season-long safety record was especially significant because it came in the year of NASCAR’s “Boys have at it” edict. Critics fretted that the gloves-off signal would turn every race into a demolition derby and every infield would require its own MASH unit.
It didn’t happen. As noted, there were some crashes but not an inordinate number. And although several cars were demolished, no drivers were, and NASCAR is to be commended. It built a safer car and surrounded it by safer walls.
This is not to say that the sport is completely risk-free. It never will be. But it’s about as safe as racing can be, and looking back over the sport’s tragedy-marred history, that’s a significant accomplishment.
There were plenty of headline-grabbing stories, starting with Jimmie Johnson's incredible fifth title and the continued frustrations of flickering superstars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon There were stories about blowups and breakups. There were sad stories about the passing of long-time racing friends and associates. There were somber stories about teams and tracks struggling through a sour economy.
There was no shortage of NASCAR news.
But the biggest story was the one that wasn’t told: every driver who started the season finished the season. Not a single one was injured. All of NASCAR’s planes landed safely, and that’s the most important story that we never read about.
Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org