NASCAR announces safety initiatives

NASCAR commitment to safety produces series of initiatives; SAFER walls, composite seats, incident data recorders among 2002 highlights. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 21, 2003) -- NASCAR's new Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. is a ...

NASCAR commitment to safety produces series of initiatives; SAFER walls, composite seats, incident data recorders among 2002 highlights.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 21, 2003) -- NASCAR's new Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. is a 61,000 square-foot facility. The spaciousness is appropriate, and needed. Big things are happening.

The 2002 NASCAR season will be remembered as one of its greatest from a competitive standpoint, but it also will be remembered as one of the greatest from a safety standpoint. NASCAR's continuing commitment to safety was further enhanced by a variety of initiatives aimed at improving the racing environment for competitors. The new R&D Center now provides a venue for those initiatives to be fully explored.

"The center is exciting now, and even more exciting when you consider its potential," said Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director of competition. "This is going to be a long-term, multi-million dollar investment."

"We're pleased with the progress of all the projects we've started, but we're not going to rest. We're going to continue to approach new ideas and new technologies with energy and enthusiasm."

Following are some highlights of 2002 safety initiatives undertaken by NASCAR:

* SAFER walls: Commonly referred as "soft" walls because of their impact-absorbing nature, the SAFER system was installed in portions of the 2.5-mile tracks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and worked well during race incidents. Development is ongoing, as NASCAR and barrier experts at the University of Nebraska, a group led by Dr. Dean Sicking, explore the possibility of implementation at other tracks.

* Composite seats: Another concept -- seats made of carbon fiber -- designed to make the cockpits of cars safer. Said Nelson: "A strong seat is the driver's friend."

* Incident data recorders: The recorders installed on cars in NASCAR's three national series, commonly called "black boxes" produced a wealth of information in 2002 that NASCAR collected and built into an "incident database." That database, written specifically for stock car racing, provides an in-depth history of what happens to drivers and cars during impacts, in the process serving as a guide for further safety enhancements.

* Computer modeling for crash simulation: The technical name of this project is LS-DYNA Model Development. The layman's explanation is that a computer simulation can create on-track incidents, and the effects on cars and drivers can be studied extensively.

* Energy absorption study: "Crushability", i.e. the use of crushable materials in cars that would further cushion the driver during and after an impact, is being examined.

* Cockpit airflow: In response to increasing concerns about air quality in the cockpit, ways to maximize "fresh air" flow for drivers are being studied.

* Greenhouse: The much-discussed "bigger car" cockpit design was tested last summer, and the project continues. It also has been expanded to include possible roof-flap redesign and an overhead driver exit.

* Helmets in the pits: Over-the-wall pit crew members were required to wear helmets.

* Driver safety update seminars: NASCAR has held four such seminars over the last two seasons, with drivers receiving updates on safety-related equipment from industry experts. Driver participation has been vital. NASCAR plans to continue such seminars.

* Access policy: Technically a 2003 initiative since it was announced this week, development of the policy began early last season. This significant measure is designed to enhance safety for those outside the race cars in the garage and pit areas.

The Research and Development Center's completion obviously has come at a perfect time, concurrent with demands related to NASCAR's comprehensive safety-oriented agenda.

"I was excited a year ago about how this was going to happen," Nelson said. "We spent the year building the center. But the same time we were building the center, we were still working and producing suggestions and solutions on a variety of initiative fronts. Now, with the center's construction completed, it's all at our fingertips."

-nascar-

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Series AUTOMOTIVE , NASCAR