NASCAR's Crumple Zone - The Humpy Bumper

 by Pete McCole
May 17, 2001

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The Humpy Bumper
All photos by Pete McCole

In the aftermath following the tragic on-track deaths of drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Dale Earnhardt, many questions have been raised concerning improving the driver safety in motorsports. 

Lowes Motor Speedway President and General Manager H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler has been one of many people leading the way in developing new ways to improve driver safety. Last year, Lowes Motor Speedway was one of the first to explore the effectiveness of new "soft wall" technology.

On Wednesday, Wheeler was on hand at a press conference held in the Winston Cup garage at Lowes Motor Speedway to unveil a new device being tested to diminish the lethal force delivered to a driver in a high-speed, frontal impact.

Developed by Paul Lew, a Las Vegas-based composite materials engineer, designer and manufacturer, the "Humpy Bumper" as it's called, is a bumper-like, impact-absorption designed to fit under the sheet-metal skin of a stock car. The new bumper is also designed to withstand the common bumps and rubs of stock car racing and remain intact until the front of the car impacts a hard surface at high speed.   For an explanation of what these "Crumple Zones" do, read this article.

"It's very rare that the stiffness of the front clip causes a lethal situation," Wheeler said, "but all three of the sport's recent on-track deaths have occurred during similar, front-angle impacts. That's why several experts feel it's the front of the car that needs immediate attention."

Humpy Wheeler and Paul Lew explain how the bumper works
All photos by Pete McCole

Created by a process called "3D/DL" (three-dimensional/directional laminate), the device weighs only 16 pounds and costs less than $6,000 to produce.

So far, the new safety device has yet to be crash tested. "Right now, it is just at the computer model stage," Lew said, "but it's our intent to make this technology available for the well-being of our drivers should it prove to be as valuable a safety factor as it looks right now."

General Motors has agreed to assign in conducting the crash tests and plan to share their findings with Nascar. 

Paul Lew has discussed the device with several Winston Cup teams, whom he refused to name. If approved by Nascar, the device could be put into use quickly.

"Once we do some work on this and if NASCAR approves it, we can manufacture enough for everyone in 30 days." Lew said.

Two time Busch Series Champion Randy LaJoie was also on hand to discuss the device, and he likes what he sees.

"I think we're all on the same page. There shouldn't be any competition. We're all trying to make the drivers safer," LaJoie said. "What Lew has done here, anything way we can get G's away from our drivers, it's going to help."

Veteran Winston Cup driven Geoffrey Bodine, who survived a terrifying crash at Daytona two years ago, likes the new idea, but doesn't believe new bumpers or soft walls are the answer.

Geoff Bodine (Top) and Randy LaJoie were on hand

"I like the bumper idea. I like people looking into those areas, I really do applaud Humpy (Wheeler), the speedway, whoever came up with the idea." Bodine said, "I'm awful saddened, because they're doing this all wrong, I think. They're doing it all backwards. Randy LaJoie was here, I'm here, Randy build seats and sells them, I build seats and test them, I've tested my seats several times and I'm still standing here.

"We really think we have a better product, I think that where we all should start is where the driver sits."

But LaJoie doesn't agree that seats are the answer. "The seats that we are building just aren't strong enough to hold our bodies at 40-, 50-G impacts." said LaJoie. "We would have to have a very, very stiff seat. What does that do if the seat doesn't give, what does that do to our bodies? We don't know. We got to get some of that crush back into these race cars. I think this is a great idea."

If approved, the new device will be manufactured by Lew Composites. Neither Wheeler nor Speedway Motorsports Inc. would make any financial gain from the development of the device.

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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