Alamo City Motorplex crew demonstrates safety protocols for drag races, other types of racing

No state laws govern racing events, but organizers follow International Hot Rod Association rules

MARION, Texas – After a drag racing crash in Kerrville left three dead, many KSAT viewers began asking questions about safety protocols at these events. A crew of experts and drivers who run the Alamo City Motorplex in Marion, Texas, which has been in operation for 20 years, invited a KSAT crew to see all the safety protocols they use for all their events.

Alamo City Motorplex did not want to comment on the crash in Kerrville because they weren’t there but wanted the public to know how a safe event looks.

“Even following protocols, you’re going to have accidents. Any kind of race as a dangerous sport,” said Daniel Cleveland, general manager of Alamo City Motorplex.

To limit those accidents, Cleveland said the Motorplex has a laundry list of safety protocols that he hopes other organizations follow as well.

“We follow IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) guidelines. Vehicles are inspected before every race. Driver suits and safety gear is inspected before every race as well. We have personnel that check the track,” he said.

Those International Hot Rod Association regulations are not state law, so there aren’t many legal ramifications for people who don’t follow them, but Cleveland said those guidelines are set in stone at his track.

The recommendations state that spectator fences need to be at least 30 feet from the barriers on the racetrack. The fences at Alamo City Motorplex are about 50 feet away, and then there is an additional 15-20 feet until the grandstands begin.

The barriers lining the racetrack are made of cement and go all the way to the finish line. Cleveland and his crew act as security, making sure no one gets any closer to the track.

Safety tech Jimmy Herrera inspects every car that races at the Motorplex, checking for leaks and loose parts.

“When the vehicle comes in, I look how the driver is sitting and look for the safety belts. On these safety belts, you’ll see the date,” Herrera said.

Both safety belts and inspections have to be valid within the last two years.

“I’ll ask the driver. I have to see his helmet and then, of course, make sure he’s got his gear,” Herrera said. “There’s different gear you need depending on what class the car is. No one’s allowed to race with shorts or flip flops.”

“I’ll ask the driver to show me his virtual safety switch, which means you have to physically put the vehicle in gear, and it cannot start launching gear. And that’s a safety issue to keep it from a false start and the car lunging and hitting another car or a bystander,” Herrera said.

Then, he walks around the vehicle and checks the body and wheels. If the car is racing at higher speeds, it will also require a fire extinguisher.

Those faster vehicles also need to have a main power switch.

“What that does is -- God forbid if anything happens on the track -- the safety guys can run up and flip that switch, and all the power is gone,” Herrera explained while flipping the switch on one of the race trucks.

Hours before the race starts, official starter and longtime racer Jerry Romines preps the track with rubber and glue for safety.

“When the people do the burnout, the heat in their tires activate the glue,” Romines said.

He said that’s the big difference between illegal street racing on public roadways and racing in a controlled environment like the Multiplex.

“If you are racing on a random street course, you have no safety,” Romines said.

Anyone who attends these races, whether it’s spectators or drivers, is encouraged to look at an official IHRS rulebook. They can be purchased online, or you can check it out virtually on the IHRS or Alamo City Motorplex websites.

KSAT talked to several people who were in Kerrville, feet away from that fatal crash, who say the plastic barricades ended before the finish line, and spectators were only 10 feet away from the cars and barricades.

Kerrville police are still investigating that crash and have not yet confirmed those reports.

KSAT also reached out to Flyin’ Diesel, the Race Wars 2 event organizer at the Kerrville airport. The owner chose not to comment.

Related stories:

What we know about tragic Kerrville drag racing crash that killed 3 people, including 2 children

‘I wished I was Superman’: Man, family feet away from Kerrville drag racing crash that killed 2 children

Support pours in for entire family hit by drag racecar in Kerrville after 6-year-old boy dies

8-year-old boy, 46-year-old aunt killed in drag race crash remembered by families

Attorneys for two victims of drag racing crash lay out possible lawsuit defendants

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.