Contrary to what you might...
Contrary to what you might have been told, your pit pass is not an insurance policy. Some good advice is to read everything closely before you sign it.
Editor's Note: Sleepy Gomez is not an attorney, nor is he an industry expert on racing insurance coverage. However, he has been a racer for the past half-century. The purpose of this article is to acquaint racers with points that need to be examined before the car ever hits the racetrack.
I have said for many years that racers are dumb. Of course, that is not a true statement. There are many smart racers. Too often, however, there are too few racers who are smart about their insurance coverage. Unfortunately, given today's legal climate, even the smart racer has a difficult time getting answers.
Any racer who thinks about insurance at the track supposes the track has insurance. This is not always the case. In many states there is no law requiring a track to even have insurance. Only a few states do have that requirement. Other states leave that decision up to the track operator. He can choose, and I have known of a few, to carry no insurance at all if he wishes. One such operator said he leased the track year to year and that everything he "owned" was in someone else's name. "So sue me," was his response. A lot of "dumb" racers competed at that track for several years. Sadly, there are other tracks doing the same thing.
Rick Hefner of the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) said insurance policies were often posted on track bulletin boards. Meaning no disrespect, I asked him what planet he lived on. We had a good laugh. Granted, I don't travel that much, but I have never seen a policy posted for all to see at the track. I think it should be. On the other hand, maybe I didn't pay enough attention! Hefner said that IMCA's coverage is in its rule book, and each driver is given a card with K&K Insurance's phone number and contact information on it. Most of the other major sanctioning organizations do something similar.
Dig deep I have often asked track operators about their policies. Many evade such questions, referring them to someone else. Others profess ignorance. Roger Archer, the promoter at 85 Speedway in Ennis, Texas, has always been forthright and open when asked about his insurance program. Over the years I have learned a lot about the "other side" of racing from him. Archer told me the name of his insurance carrier and the amount of coverage he has. Beyond that, he said I would need to talk to the insurance agent. However, that is really all the information a racer needs from a track operator, but a smart racer always verifiesthe information with the insurance agent.
With the above information in hand, a racer should contact the insurance agent or company to learn about the coverage he can likely expect should an accident happen. This is racing: accidents happen. Remember, there are various types of coverages, and insurance is likely to be weighted to protect the track operator from liability, not the racer. This could have significant meaning to you in the future.
As for those promoters referenced earlier in this story, the ones who would rather refer me to someone else or profess ignorance, I am skeptical about their coverage. This has led me, on occasion, to call K&K Insurance, Rand, North American, or other companies in search of information. The companies or agents are often hesitant to say anything specific about a customer's coverage. In the past, callers have misrepresented themselves and their positions to gain access to proprietary information, and that causes problems. As such, the hesitation is understandable, but a racer should be able to get basic information. If this happens, ask the track operator to call the company and verify your need to talk to them. When a track operator won't answer questions about his insurance coverage and then the agent does the same, I am uncomfortable. What can be done? I race a different track.
Racers need to ask what the...
Racers need to ask what the track's insurance policy is and what it covers. Supplemental insurance is always a good idea.
As with most services, insurance costs are rising all the time. Even as race cars become safer, there are still injury accidents on the track, in the pits, and in the stands. Only now, each accident becomes more costly to the racer who can't work and to the insurance company who eventually returns that cost to the racetrack in the form of higher premiums. When that cost gets back to the track is it absorbed by the track operator? Hardly. It is returned to the racer in the form of increased gate fees.
How it all works Every week you trundle down to the pit gate, sign your name on the dotted line, and buy a pit pass. Unlike what you might have thought, the pit pass you are required to buy is not an insurance payment. Usually, the track has some form of blanket policy that covers everything inside the track property. The pit pass should be considered just that: The price of admission to the pit area.
So this is the way insurance works. The costs of any claims are spread around so everyone pays a little. As expected, everyone who handles the money gets to keep a little of it just like the grocery store that sells apples and makes a profit on each one.
Attorneys are part of this chain, too. Many jokes are made about the practitioners of the legal arts, yet, the truth is that each of us, finding ourselves in a predicament involving risk to our financial and personal well-being, will seek the services of a lawyer. In the real world, lawyers are a fact of life. We can cuss them, but we can't get along without them. When we need one we want the best we can find, thus the price goes up.
Insurance companies collect "premiums" or payments from the track operator, money that came from you. The company pays back a portion of this money when there is a claim of injury. Sounds fair and it is. Everyone involved makes a living.
But is it really that simple? No. The insurance company/agent has little control over the insurance coverage at any given racetrack. The agent sells insurance to the track much like that grocery store sells apples: You can buy red ones, green ones, large or small. Each track operator buys the coverage he wants.
There are many insurance "apples" to choose from. One category is ambulance coverage. This will pay the cost of an ambulance ride to the hospital, which can be $1,500 or more. Some tracks have this coverage, some don't. Don't forget there may be large deductibles in each category. Accidental death and dismemberment coverage may be as little as $5,000. This coverage pays its set claim amount should you be killed or lose an arm or leg. Check the price of a casket or prosthesis in your area and compare it with the coverage you race under.
Liability coverage is the area where high-dollar claims are filed. This, too, can be confusing. One track operator said he had $1 million worth of liability insurance, and upon checking the validity of that claim, I found out he wasn't lying. The $1 million policy was to protect him and the track in case of an accident. I found he had only a small amount covering the racers on the track. In fact, it would have barely covered the cost of a trip to the emergency room. That meant if you had a claim, you would have to get a lawyer and sue the track operator. Thus, the racer who asked only a simple question might still be misled. I found out because I called the insurance company.
Liability insurance coverage sometimes pays out huge sums for medical treatment. Therefore, the company bases its rates for track owners on how much it pays out. With this being the high-dollar part of racing insurance, many involved seek to lower the costs. With everyone seeking a part of the dollar this is hard to do. One of the ways this is accomplished is with secondary insurance.
Bob Ewell is a veteran Sprint...
Bob Ewell is a veteran Sprint car racer and feature winner all over the Midwest and Southeast. Ewell has worked in the insurance industry for years. He knows reading and understanding the Release of Liability form as well as the track's insurance coverage is important.
Secondary Insurance Secondary insurance is just that. It pays second. If you have insurance through your employer or have a personal policy covering your medical needs, your policy will be made to pay first. Many people have this kind of coverage at their place of employment. For many employed in their own small business or those who work for a company not offering medical coverage, the secondary policy will pay first. Be aware that some secondary policies have large ($5,000) deductibles.
Most of the major sanctioning bodies offer insurance as part of the membership package. IMCA, for instance, maintains among other coverages a secondary insurance policy on its members. An IMCA member is only covered at an IMCA-sanctioned track. If that member should choose to go to a non-sanctioned track, he would not be covered by IMCA's insurance. Your organization may have similar coverage.
In all of my study of racing insurance, I haven't seen any problems with an insurance policy paying what its policy said it would for a racing accident.
There are also those situations where there was not enough coverage to cover a racer's injuries. All policies have limits. Remember the operator with a lot of insurance on himself but little on the racer? This can bring out the lawyers in a hurry. The deductibles (from $500 to $5,000) can sometimes take one by surprise.
Another factor that can affect insurance coverage is the form we all sign and pay little attention to when entering a track. It is often called a "Release of Liability." This won't let someone duck out of being liable for your misfortune. This form is an acknowledgment that you are entering a restricted area (the pits) and that you understand this can be a dangerous place (you are exposed to high-speed racing cars, among other things). Some of these forms can be different. Ask for a copy to take home and read. It can be interpreted several ways, but if it causes you a problem it will take several lawyers to figure it out.
The bottom line is this: Ask questions and get answers. If you think "it won't ever happen to you," give this magazine to a caring member of your family.
What You Should Do
When you arrive at the track, especially if it's a track you've never raced before, you need to do a little spadework while the crew unloads the car. As a driver, you are responsible for your own safety, to a point. The track operator is-or should be-responsible for the safety of all.
When you get into the pit area, it is a good idea to take a look at specific areas. First, inspect the racing surface. If it's a dirt track and there's a hole large enough to park your hauler in the first turn, you might want to ask if it can be fixed before someone catches a wheel and goes through the barbed-wire fence on the outside of Turn 1.
Likewise, take a careful look at the safety equipment and personnel. You really don't want to be in a position to have to count on the safety crew if you don't understand what equipment they have and how they use it.
After completing your walk-around, make sure your supplemental insurance is at least as good as the conditions you're racing under. That's the bottom line when it comes to making decisions on whether or not to race at a particular track. If the minuses in what you've seen outweigh the positives, it might be a good idea to sit out until conditions improve. It takes a brave racer to walk away from what he considers unsafe conditions and not race.