[87 NJSuper Page 444] The plaintiff on June 4, 1961 entered a stock car race promoted by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) and Old Bridge Stadium, Inc. The car was so constructed that a neoprene (synthetic rubber) hose was attached to the gas tank and passed through the vehicle and then through a forward fire wall where it connected with the fuel pump. The plaintiff had never before entered an automobile in a race held in the stadium operated by the defendant, Old Bridge Stadium. On the day of the race he drove his stock car up to the entrance where he advised
a man in attendance that he was interested in entering a race and upon being asked if he belonged to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) and responding in the negative, he was advised that he had to join NASCAR. He paid a fee of $15 and was given a form which he described as a questionnaire. He was requested to sign it and after signing and paying the requested fee he was told that he was then a member of NASCAR and was permitted to drive into the racing area. The man who sought his signatures was described as an official of defendant sponsors. No mention was ever made of a release; he does not remember signing any releases. No one inspected or tested his vehicle before he was permitted to enter the racing area. He entered a race, the distance of which was eight or ten laps, and when the final flag dropped and he had won the race, the vehicle burst into flames and he was severely burned. He testified he saw "flames shooting in the car all around this gas line that was on the floor. * * *, and there was an explosion. * * * Gasoline caused it." He admits receiving $40 per week from NASCAR and medical and hospital expenses while disabled which he attributed to benefits from insurance for which he paid a fee when he entered the race. He did not offer to have his car inspected or tested. He was not acquainted with any NASCAR rules or regulations. He states that no discussion was had with anyone at the track with reference to inspection or testing of his vehicle prior to entering the race. He had never entered a stock car race sponsored by NASCAR.
Two releases have been admitted without objection. Both were executed by the plaintiff. One form of release was signed by each of the contestants who desired to enter races and the name of the plaintiff appears thereon as a contestant. This release exempts from liability for injuries or death the defendant NASCAR and the defendant licensed promoter and its agents, officers, servants and employees. The other release is headed "Benefit Plan Registration" and designated thereon are the date and place of birth of the plaintiff, his occupation
and employer and the names of his wife and children and a designation thereon of his wife as his death beneficiary. This document states that, upon the issuance of a NASCAR license to the plaintiff and upon payment of fees required by NASCAR, the plaintiff and his executors, administrators and heirs would only be entitled to the benefits provided by a benefit plan promulgated by NASCAR for accidental injuries including death. The benefits authorized by said plan are set forth therein and the form concludes with wordage that amounts to a release of NASCAR and the promoters and owners and lessees of the premises and others for any injuries or death.
Negligence or contributory negligence of the parties is not an issue for decision at this time. The question for determination is whether the defendants as releasees have validly immunized themselves against liability for an alleged act of negligence committed after the execution of general releases. The defendants, by their respective answers, raise the defense of releases. The plaintiff failed to file a reply to avoid the effect of these releases, nor has he sought to do so. R.R. 4:8-3, R.R. 4:7-1, R.R. 4:15-1. The status of the pleadings amounts to a denial of the releases. R.R. 4:8-4. In this posture of the pleadings the existence of a valid release would terminate the plaintiff's cause of action.
Races of the type in which the plaintiff was engaged which are sponsored and promoted by the defendants are regulated by statute. N.J.S.A. 5:7-8 et seq.
N.J.S.A. 5:7-14 provides:
"The department shall formulate and prescribe rules and regulations * * *. Said rules and regulations shall prescribe the types or character of protective devices designed to protect participants in * * * any such race or exhibition, including, but not limited to, the matters of track construction and condition, guard rails, pit facilities, lighting, inspection of vehicles and equipment * * * fire protection * * * and generally governing the conduct of all motor vehicle races and exhibitions of motor vehicle driving skill to be held within this State and governs the issuance of licenses therefor." (Emphasis added)
N.J.S.A. 5:7-18 provides:
"Any person, partnership, association or corporation managing, operating, or conducting a motor vehicle race or exhibition of motor vehicle driving skill * * * violating any of the provisions of this act shall be a disorderly person, and upon conviction shall be punished for each such offense, by a fine of not less than two hundred dollars ($200.00) and not more than one thousand dollars ...