IMS continues to study crash data from Safer Barrier.
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, July 30, 2003 -- On May 1, 2002, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and CEO Tony George announced a safety innovation that would revolutionize the sport of automobile racing.
George announced that the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier was being installed in all four turns of the famous 2.5-mile oval in time for practice for that year's Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, which was the 86th running of the event.
Under development by the Indy Racing League and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since 1998, the SAFER Barrier was designed for multiple impacts by IRL IndyCarTM Series cars and stock cars during an event. NASCAR joined in the development of the project in September 2000.
The SAFER Barrier is constructed in 20-foot modules, with each module consisting of four rectangular steel tubes, welded together, to form a unified element. The modules are connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of 2-inch-thick sheets of extruded, closed-cell polystyrene are placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules.
It's been more than two years since the initial installation, and the SAFER Barrier remains on the outside retaining walls of the four turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having been used in two Indianapolis 500-Mile Races, one Brickyard 400 and one United States Grand Prix. The system again will be in place for the 10th Brickyard 400 on Sunday. Aug. 3.
Kevin Forbes, director of engineering and construction for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he is happy to see that other tracks are beginning to install the SAFER Barrier. Talladega Superspeedway has installed the barrier on its inside retaining wall in Turn 2, and Richmond International Raceway officials said the system will be installed at the ¾-mile oval.
"We can now gather even more data, and hopefully it will be a more universal effort in development of future SAFER Barriers," Forbes said. "This obviously benefits not only the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the entire motorsports world.
"We are constantly in the process of trying to understand the nuances associated with the variety of impacts that can occur with the SAFER Barrier," Forbes said. "There are so many ways that impacts can occur, from front-impact collisions, to side impacts, to rear impacts. We continue to get more data and a feel for the type of impacts that occur with the SAFER Barrier with the wide variety of racing we have at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."
According to Forbes, there have been more than 15 impacts into the SAFER Barrier with IRL IndyCar Series cars or NASCAR Winston Cup cars during testing, practice, qualifying or race activity at IMS. No Formula One race cars have yet to make contact with the Barrier, which is in Turn 13 of the Speedway's 2.606-mile road course.
Forbes said the results to date have been positive.
"Compared to similar impacts prior to the SAFER Barrier being installed, impacts since then have seen damage and associated injury drastically reduced," Forbes said.
Despite that, Speedway and IRL officials, working with NASCAR and the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, continue to try and improve the Barrier through test crashes at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility in Nebraska and analysis of all crash data.
Driver feedback indicates that the SAFER Barrier is the future of motorsports.
Kenny Brack, the 1998 IRL IndyCar Series champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner, made his first impact with the SAFER Barrier during a testing accident on April 23, 2003.
"I have to say that the SAFER wall that they have here at Indy is probably the most undramatic crash you would have on an oval," Brack said after his crash. "It really helps absorb energy."
Legendary driver Mario Andretti, the only man to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and Formula One World Championship, also was involved in the accident with Brack on April 23 and had high praise for the SAFER Barrier.
"When Kenny hit it, he waited for a big ouch, and it was a non-event," Andretti said. "That SAFER wall is really, really working."
Andretti, who was testing an Andretti Green Racing IRL IndyCar Series car for his son Michael that day, also was behind Tomas Scheckter earlier in the day when Scheckter hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3.
"And he walked away," Andretti said. "I mean, it was unbelievable if you could see the angle that he hit. He walked away. If there was just concrete there, it would not have been good."
NASCAR Winston Cup standout Kurt Busch impacted the SAFER Barrier with the rear of his car in Turn 3 during the 2002 Brickyard 400.
"It seems that it did its job," Busch said after the race. "I'm able to walk away from a 200-mph hit."
NASCAR veteran Todd Bodine and rookie Christian Fittipaldi each hit the SAFER Barrier in separate accidents during Brickyard 400 testing July 16.
"Hallelujah -- Tony George, thank you," Bodine said. "That hit should have hurt, and I don't even have a headache. Nothing. I feel like I just climbed out from practice. Thank you, Tony George, that's all I can say.
"Put them in. You could save lives without a doubt. It saves lives, injuries. That hit should have hurt. We don't have a G-meter in the car or anything, but we can pretty much tell what the slowdown rate was, and I'm telling you it was a hard hit. And look at me: I don't even have a sore spot."
Under the direction of George, other key IMS and IRL officials involved in the development of the SAFER Barrier include Forbes, Casey, IRL Senior Vice President of Operations Brian Barnhart and IMS Director of Medical Services Dr. Henry Bock. That team has worked closely since 1998 with Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the staff there.
In addition to the SAFER Barrier, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the site of several other groundbreaking innovations in motorsports including the first use of the rear-view mirror, track safety lights, fuel cells and crash-data recorders. The Speedway had a permanent building on the grounds that served as a hospital as early as 1910, and in 1935 IMS became the first track to require crash helmets. In 1957 it is believed that the Speedway became the first major track to build a pit lane that was separated completely from the racing surface by a retaining wall. In 1959, IMS became the first speedway to require fire-retardant uniforms.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built has a automobile testing facility in 1909," Forbes said. "The SAFER Barrier is a prime example of how the Speedway is still a testing facility in 2003 as well as the international leader in motorsports entertainment."
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been home since 1911 to the Indianapolis 500, the world's largest single-day sporting event. The Speedway also plays host to the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Winston Cup Series race and the United States Grand Prix Formula One race, two of the largest single-day sporting events in the world. The Speedway property includes the Hall of Fame Museum, the Brickyard Crossing 18-hole championship golf course and the Brickyard Crossing Inn.