The U.S. Grand Prix will be run this year without a face very familiar in the paddock, if one little known to most fans.
Circuit of the Americas’ director of safety, Lon Bromley, was killed in a boating accident in Oregon on Oct. 1., just two weeks after working the World Endurance Championship race in Austin.
“The whole motorsport world is just shocked that he’s gone,” said Tim Mayer, a director of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States.
Bromley helped make COTA what one expert called “the safest track in the world,” and was one of the people who helped stem the carnage in motorsports by coordinating teams of fire, medical and safety experts.
“It’s safe to say that success has many fathers, but he’s the grandfather, an early, early pioneer,” Mayer said of Bromley’s safety efforts.
Bromley directed the CART and Champ Car safety teams from 1988 until the series closed in 2008. At that time racing was emerging from an era where deaths were all too common. Bromley’s well-organized crews became a model for how things should be done, one that has since been copied at many tracks in the U.S.
In 2001 Bromley’s crew assisted in saving the life of racer Alex Zanardi after a horrifying crash in Germany, an incident that is still talked about today. Zanardi lost both legs, he survived and this year claimed gold at the Rio Paralympics.
In April 2011, Olvey was named director of medical services at a track under construction, the Circuit of the Americas, where he served for four years.
“I was asked who they should get to be safety director. I said there was only one person. He was the best at what he did,” Olvey said of Bromley. He said Bromley had an uncanny ability to know everything about a track, right down to the condition of the asphalt.
The Austin circuit presented a new challenge.
“He and I faced virgin territory, that doesn’t happen very often,” Olvey said. “It was kind of scary.”
Olvey said the design of the track, with its large run-off areas, and the safety crews he and Bromley put together make the circuit the safest in the world.
“I can say that without a doubt,” Olvey said.
Mayer said that safety experts in auto racing are not unlike airplane mechanics. You might not notice them, but you want them to be good.
“For the most part Lon did fly under the radar,” Mayer said. “He made it look effortless.”