Auto racing requires heightened awareness. The exhilarating speed pushes the issue of reaction time. Stationary objects become a blur when passed at high speeds. The world inside the cockpit of the car becomes very small. There may be trouble around the next bend and your senses need to pick up on it.

Tragic on-track incidents have again brought the need for safety to the forefront. In the minds of many, the idea of driver protection means better fire-retardant apparel, better seats and restraints, and helmets. There is a clear need for all that, but there is also a need to look at what's being done to prevent the accidents.

Some accidents are avoidable when there is proper warning. Drivers need to be alerted at the first possible instant. The instinct then kicks in to allow the driver to control his or her situation. More information means a greater likelihood of avoiding a crash.

The better-known systems of alerting drivers involve the senses of hearing and sight. One system utilizes a tone to alert the driver of an on-track incident. A second system calls for the activation of a cockpit-mounted warning light.

The purpose of this article is to educate, not endorse. Each system has its merits, and its use can be best determined by the user.

The Visual Side
Firsthand experience played a role in the development of the Race Safe System built by Rick Martell in Brewerton, New York. "I ran dirt Modifieds in the '70s and '80s and was piled up in an accident under caution," Martell says. "We knew something like this didn't have to happen. My brother is electronically inclined, so we starting working on a system. We finally got what we were wanting after two or three years of experimenting."

The Race Safe System utilizes a cockpit-mounted amber light. There is also a green light indicating power (early systems had a red light for the times the track conditions were red-flagged, but that is no longer used). Installation is simple and can be completed in minutes. Some drilling will be necessary to mount the system, which comes fully charged.

After developing the system, Martell approached Glenn Donnelly of DIRT Motorsports about utilizing the system. The forward-thinking Donnelly put the system to use in those cars. The series now utilizes warning systems of the individual tracks for its tours.

For the 2003 season, the ARCA RE/MAX Series has made the Race Safe System mandatory for all competitors. Bruce Silver of Racing Electronics was contacted by the sanction to find a warning system. "I've been familiar with Race Safe for about 15 years because of the DIRT Modifieds," Silver says. "We're the official communication service of ARCA, so they asked for information or advice. We're there at the races, so we'll help provide the service."

"We had to create a market because it wasn't there," Martell says of the start. "A lot of people said we didn't need it. I've seen tapes of people getting hurt or getting killed because of accidents under caution. We did need it."

Much of the attention has been directed at the individual tracks, and facilities using the system read like a "Who's Who" of short track racing. Some tracks make it mandatory, while others are only willing to suggest drivers make the commitment. The cost of the individual system has been kept low despite the fact they are not mass produced. Racers can expect to pay $399 for a unit.