Ever notice how when you’re shopping for a new car, you start seeing that model—or ones like it—everywhere? For example, about a year ago my wife and I were in the market for an SUV, and all of a sudden it seemed like every other vehicle on the road was an Explorer, or a 4Runner, or a Grand Cherokee. What was happening?

Best I can tell it was one of two things: Either the price of gas in Southern California had mysteriously fallen to 89 cents a gallon and millions of drivers collectively decided to splurge on midsize SUVs…. Or we were experiencing what’s known as “frequency illusion,” a phenomenon where something you recently learned, or noticed, or were told about suddenly appears everywhere.

Unfortunately for our net worth, it was the second option. But this did explain why we were seeing these particular vehicles more. It turns out that our brains—having been tuned into something new—decided to subconsciously start looking for SUVs on their own. So there weren’t necessarily more SUVs in Orange County, we were just noticing them more.

Funny thing is, once we made our purchase the number of Explorers, 4Runners, etc. in our area began to dwindle! Not really, but it sure seemed that way.

I’m guessing this has happened to you once or twice before. Or it will now that I’ve mentioned it. Ha! (For further reading, Google “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.”)

Now, you may be wondering how this all ties in to racing. Fair enough. Earlier this year, Ryan Newman sustained a pretty horrific crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. And in the weeks that followed we saw countless stories, videos, and more on how he survived the initial and secondary impacts; or how quickly rescue crews responded to the scene, and how they managed to extinguish the resulting flames. In terms of informing and educating enthusiasts, fans, and even the general public on how racing has become safer, this was a good thing.

But it raises some bigger-picture questions: Namely, when it comes to safety in motorsports, is it possible that we experience a sort of frequency illusion, where our attention level spikes after a notable incident, and then drops off after a period of time? Do our brains naturally move on to new stimuli once the headlines fade? More pointedly, are we still keeping safety top of mind even when there isn’t a high-enough-profile event to refer back to?

For additional insight on the subject, I recently spoke with Kevin Shaw, co-owner of RaceDay Safety in Dallas, Georgia, who agreed that while racing safety is constantly improving, “unfortunately it improves at the greatest rate after a tragedy.”

He remained upbeat, however, noting that we are making headway and explaining that “as far as driver safety, just the general acceptance of the latest advances in safety equipment has been the biggest stride [we’ve made as an industry] over the past few years. Many drivers are still…under-protected, but many more drivers are now utilizing the full range of safety gear, even if it is not required by their rule book.”

Which brings us to this month’s edition of PRI Magazine, and the five-part package of articles, beginning on page 38, that examines different aspects of motorsports safety, as well as important developments taking place therein. Whether it’s the latest materials in SFI-rated fire suits, or new head-and-neck restraints by industry leaders like Stand21 and NecksGen, our writeup on drivers’ safety gear provides valuable insights into how manufacturers are working to bring next-generation technology to market. You’ll find equally informative content on vehicle safety, heat and fire protection, race track design, and cutting-edge advances in science and medicine.

Newman’s wreck wasn’t the inspiration for this issue, but it certainly helps illustrate how the various elements of safety—driver, vehicle, track, etc.—work together to save lives and ultimately move the category forward. We invite you to explore these topics in the following pages, as well as to continue the conversation with your customers on a regular and ongoing basis. I think we can all agree, it’s just that important.

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