Earlier this year, a
routine test of a SAFER wall designed for tight radius turns like
those at New Hampshire Int’l Speedway and Richmond Int’l Raceway
went awry in the final twenty feet delaying eventual implementation
of the system by at least 30 days.
A No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo piloted by computer was
heading for a routine impact with a SAFER wall when something went
awry. The car went off course and hit a pole, which launched it into
the air as it hurtled toward the SAFER barrier. In the blink of an
eye, NASCAR had a completely new set of possibilities to consider.
“The purpose of the test was to establish a second set of data to
compare with the first test we conducted,” stated John Darby,
Winston Cup Series Director. “Instead we got completely different
test data that couldn’t be used as a comparison in an effort to
determine how to best use SAFER walls on tight radius tracks.”
The lack of comparative data and damage to the testing facility,
done by the tumbling Chevrolet, meant a final report from Dr. Siking
was delayed until the facility could be repaired and another test
completed. However, not all was lost.
“The data we did receive was very interesting and is being put to
good use,” said Darby, who is eager to see the installation of SAFER
walls at tracks willing to install them.
“The track operator at New Hampshire is waiting on NASCAR and the
folks at Richmond are also on board with us. Installation is
dependent on receiving a final report from Dr. Siking. That report,
only with data NASCAR has collected, will help us determine just how
much wall will need to be installed on tracks with tight radius
The wait could be over soon. Darby says the chance of seeing SAFER
walls is “more likely” this season at both New Hampshire and
Richmond by the time the circuit visits both tracks for the second
time. There even appears to be a “possibility” the walls could be in
place at New Hampshire when the tour visits the one-mile facility in
SAFER walls are just one of several very important projects underway
at the NASCAR Research and Development Center about to come to
Work on an escape hatch located in the roof of the race cars in both
Winston Cup and Busch Series competition is nearly complete.
“Our biggest hustle right now is the roof hatch,” Darby said. “The
theory and design are complete. We have a little more work to do in
fabrication so the teams can adapt the hatch to current cars.”
Darby says there is a very “real possibility” all cars will be
required to have the hatch in place when the 2004 season opens in
Daytona. The hatch will not be required in the Craftsman Truck
Series for several reasons two of which are the height of the roof
and the larger window opening of the truck.
Implementation of SAFER walls and roof hatches will be following
quickly by the introduction of the car of the future, which could
easily happen in 2005 but might come about as late as 2006.
“The car of the future will be 90 percent under the skin,” answered
Darby when asked if the fans would notice the changes. “This is not
going to be something out of The Jetsons.
“Work on the big greenhouse car has allowed us to operate from a
clean sheet of paper to design the car of the future.”
Accumulated data pointed out to NASCAR officials how easily they
could control and alter the aero responses without having to
legislate a bigger greenhouse. With that information in hand the
sanctioning body was able to turn their full attention to a complete
redesign of the major components sitting underneath the sheet metal
representing Ford, Chevy, Pontiac and Dodge makes.
“With a better understanding of how easily we could adjust on the
bodies aerodynamically we were able to apply everything we have
learned and continue to learn to the design of the race car of the
future. A car that will have a better frame, roll cage and crash
absorbing materials built into both the front and rear.” We
like to think that this
by our Mark Cipolloni, the first of its kind that we know of, had
some influence on the decision by NASCAR to add what amounts to
crumple zones in both the front and rear of their cars. We
know they read it thoroughly. Sometimes NASCAR really does
With the advent of a new chassis design that incorporates
energy-absorbing materials and SAFER walls the possibility of
injuries like those sustained by Jerry Nadeau at Richmond in early
May should be heavily reduced.
However, it is important to note the date and time of implementation
is highly dependent on the continued testing and conclusions of
crash experts like Dr. Siking. It is just nice to know that time is
sooner than later.
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