The death of Scott Kalitta was both tragic and pointed out the obvious: Auto racing is dangerous. As the years have passed and safety standards have improved, serious injuries and deaths have thankfully declined. Unfortunately, now and then catastrophe strikes. This decade, it happened in NASCAR with Dale Earnhardt. it happened in IndyCar with Tony Renna and Paul Dana, and now it's happened in drag racing with Scott Kalitta and Eric Medlen last year.
The one silver lining is when there is a big accident, there is usually something that can be learned that hopefully will prevent something similar from happening again. In Kalitta's case, it appeared the run off area at the track was sub-standard. Plus, it seems to me that having a retaining wall at a dragstrip for any reason other than crowd control is a bad idea.
Over the years, safety measures have evolved. Recently, the changes have been more sophisticated and advanced that ever. We now have the HANS device, the SAFER barrier, the Car of Tomorrow, and more stringent track standards than ever before. We saw how far we've come over the past year when Michael McDowell and Dario Franchitti walked away from incredible accidents.
Unfortunately, it's just not possible to make racing 100% safe. The risk of serious injury or worse will always be there, no matter how safe they make the cars and the tracks. It's the risk every driver at every level takes.
Was Scott Kalitta's death preventable? I don't know. What I do know is he wasn't the first and unfortunately he won't be the last.
Complete Motorsports Safety: The Impossible Standard