IRL: Indianapolis SAFER barrier press conference, part I

Indianapolis Motor Speedway 'SAFER' Barrier press conference transcript Wednesday, May 1, 2002 Part 1 of 3 - Announcement by IMS Fred Nation: Welcome to this news conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My name is Fred Nation, ...

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
'SAFER' Barrier press conference transcript
Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Part 1 of 3 - Announcement by IMS

Fred Nation: Welcome to this news conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My name is Fred Nation, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League. Both the Speedway and the League are very pleased that you came around and graced us with your presence for this very important occasion and very important announcement. There will be short statements from each of our gentlemen at the front followed by questions and answers. After that, assuming it's not raining after that, we will immediately board buses right outside. Right outside there are buses out here to go down to the first turn where you can see the new wall barrier. If it is raining, we will remain in the room and do one-on-ones. Then play it by ear. We will still take you down to the wall. You may not be able to get out of the buses. Right now it' fine, but it's May and unpredictable in Indianapolis. Before we get to the business of the day, I would like to note the cooperation of any individuals, organizations and businesses who have played a part in making this new wall barrier come to fruition. Among those we would like to include in our thanks for the services, donated services are Delphi, Mark I Composites, Petty Enterprises, Ford Motorsports, Roush Racing, Ganassi Racing, Petree Racing, Henry Motorsports, Penske South Racing, Dodge Motorsports, all of the teams of the Indy Racing League, Daimler Chrysler through Dodge Motorsports, Ford Racing, GM Racing, Firestone and Al Speyer in particular, and a gentleman who is now here, John Pierce, an Indy Racing League safety consultant who has been very vital in the production of where we are today, Dr. Henry Bock, who is the director of medical services for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dr. Bock, are you here? Thank you. And a special welcome to Leo Mehl, former executive director Indy Racing League vice president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who got all this process started with Tony George and the George family in 1997. Our first speaker today is the president and CEO of both the Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony George. Tony.

Tony George: Thank you, Fred. If a life without risk is not worth living, and a day without challenge is not worth facing, the business of motorsports certainly provides opportunity for both on a daily basis. How one deals with each determines the strength of one's character and leadership. I would like to recognize and congratulate everyone that you will hear from today, as well as those who Fred mentioned in the introduction for their outstanding leadership. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has, for nearly a century, had as its hallmark, automotive and safety innovation. Today is another example as we formally preview the steel and foam energy reduction wall that we believe is part of motorsports' future. And if I may use the acronym SAFER, I believe that's just exactly what it describes. SAFER wall has been installed in all four corners and outer corners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500. And it's going to give us an opportunity to develop, you know, some real-world experience with the design, material and principles that we have been working on developing for the last couple of years. And it's been an interesting process for me. I have watched it develop. I've seen the hard work and dedication of everybody who has worked on this, and it's exciting. I think that Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indianapolis 500, given the format, offers the perfect opportunity to develop it. It gives us two weeks of practice leading up to the event. The opportunity to see what characteristics this device might have. We hope that it proves to be an answer to a concern of many here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for both the Indy cars and for the stock cars. But I think that each day we learn more about it, and we're looking forward to the month of May starting this weekend. It goes without saying this would not be possible without the University of Nebraska. They have been an outstanding partner in this, and I am very proud to be associated with them. As well as NASCAR, who I think has shown a lot of leadership, as well. I think back in 2000, when we first really broached with them what we were working on, they wholeheartedly embraced what we are doing, maybe not as publicly as some would like, but privately, and with the right amount of prudence and judgment. And with their support, and that of Nebraska, we have been able to move this process forward. So with that, I would like to continue the program by turning it over to you.

Nation: Tony, join us over here. We're going to unveil a line drawing of how this wall is constructed. And you all should have a copy of it. Thank you, Tony.

George: I haven't seen it.

Nation: He's seen the real thing, though. Does it look like it? Now it's my pleasure to introduce Gary Nelson, the director of NASCAR competition. As Tony said, NASCAR has been a cooperating partner in this endeavor since 2000. We appreciate you being here today, Gary, and the stage is yours.

Gary Nelson: Thank you, Fred. NASCAR is so proud to be part of this project and see it move to the next level, real racetrack testing of a SAFER wall. And when we look back, there's a lot of people that we need to thank, and a lot of people that put in a lot of hard work over the last several years into the project. The car owners that Fred mentioned on the NASCAR side put in their racecars, real racecars off the racetrack that we took to the University of Nebraska, where Dean Sicking and his group ran them into the wall. So it was -- we learned so much working with Tony George, Brian Barnhart and their staff, the people at University of Nebraska. Everything has really elevated the level of knowledge of what happens when a car crashes. Now, we have a long way to go, but we're very excited to be part of it and we're looking forward to the next steps.

Nation: Thank you, Gary. Our next speaker is Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations with Indy Racing League, who has been involved with the project since the beginning, and he will talk about the history of the project and how we got where we are today.

Brian Barnhart: Thank you, Fred. Good afternoon everyone. I will, as Fred mentioned, give you a brief timeline and history of the development of the barrier to the point where we are today. It began in 1997 under the leadership and guidance of Leo Mehl, the executive director of Indy Racing League. Leo formed a safety committee for the Indy Racing League, and one of the projects on the agenda was to look into the possibility of creating an energy-absorbing barrier. That safety committee consisted of John Pierce, technical and safety consultant to the Indy Racing League, Les Mactaggart, safety consultant and technical consultant to Indy Racing, Henry Bock, our medical director, Phil Casey, our technical director and myself. We started to move forward with a project that eventually became known as the PEDS Barrier and installed on the inside wall of Turn 4 in May 1998. The wall was first hit at the IROC race in August of 1998 by Arie Luyendyk in an IROC car, and it quickly identified a couple of things. Obviously, I think the need for such a barrier, because I think the barrier in fact probably helped keep Arie from receiving serious injuries, yet at the same time it also identified several issues and concerns with the wall that we had developed. Obviously, there was a concern with the method of attachment to the wall. It created a debris field for oncoming cars when it came off. We were actually, in many ways, very fortunate that the first impact on that wall was during an IROC race when there are only 12 cars on the track. We put the wall up on an inside wall, thinking, to be honest with you, that it would probably be an area for a secondary impact. As it turned out, it was a primary impact with Arie's IROC car. It showed issues of snagging and pocketing the car. It had a high rebound angle and propelled him back out into the line of oncoming racecars. Again, the method of attachment created -- it failed and the pieces came off the wall and created a very serious debris field for oncoming cars. So it quickly identified the complexity of the issues of what we were dealing with. At that time, Leo moved us forward and realized that this is probably something way beyond, from an engineering standpoint, the safety committee's capabilities. At that point in time, we were put in contact with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and their Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, which is one of the nation's leaders in highway safety barrier applications. We contacted Dr. Dean Sicking and Ron Fowler and their staff, and started to work on an energy-absorbing barrier. That has obviously taken a long time to develop because of the complexities involved. A PEDS-2 variation put up for May '99 also impacted, however in a much lighter manner, during the month of May in '99 by Hideshi Matsuda. It was a much more minor impact, as he had lost control trying to enter the pits. The wall had made several improvements and that was the two times that the original PEDS wall had been impacted. In September of 2000, as we had continued to development with the University of Nebraska, we were at a point, Tony George and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, very much in a position of several other track owners and promoters out there running both open-wheel cars and stock cars on their facility. We were comfortable with the progress that we had made at that point, and we were certainly ready at that point in time to bring NASCAR into the program. At the September Richmond race in 2000, I sat down with Mike Helton and Gary Nelson explained the process where we were at. They were very much interested in moving forward. Had been a tremendous help in providing the stock cars and the fender cars that had been used to continue the progressive crash testing that has taken place in 2000, 2001 and in the spring of 2002. That has led us through the point where we are, the final test had been completed at the University of Nebraska in April 2002. As Fred said, I would also like to thank all the IRL teams, and especially Delphi. Delphi has been outstanding in their cooperation throughout the entire process. Firestone for providing the tires to test the cars on and Indy Racing League staff, Dr. Henry Bock, Phil Casey Les Mactaggart, John Pierce, they've got an awful lot of hours invested in this and lot of work and energy and research and development in doing this. That's all been spearheaded, of course, by Tony George and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The goal of this barrier, one thing I would say, first of all, in trying and put into your guys head, it's been something that's obviously been in the forefront of the media for quite some time. One thing I would certainly like to stress to you guys, as you can see by the drawing, when you go out and see it, it is really a misnomer to attach the word soft to this in any way, shape, or form. There is not anything soft about an impact barrier for racecars. When you're talking about racecars of the velocities that you're dealing with, the masses, the angles, the impact forces and the cars compositions of today, a soft barrier is absolutely inappropriate and the wrong way to go. The proper term that needs to be used, and our goal was to create an energy-absorbing barrier. And we have gone to a point right now where our goal with this barrier is to reduce the forces seen by the car and the driver to an area that the driver is less likely to be injured. There are still going to be injuries with this wall, I mean, racing is an inherently dangerous sport. But as Tony said, it is consistent with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since its inception in 1909 to continue to be a leader in the automotive industry and technology and safety. This is the next evolution, and something we're very proud of.

The technical side

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About this article
Series Automotive , IndyCar , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , Tony George , Mike Helton , Brian Barnhart , Matsuda Hideshi
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing