Humpy Hosts Fender Bender

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CONCORD, N.C. - While NASCAR may have fallen short to many people’s liking in delivering new safety innovations, Paul Lew and Humpy Wheeler seemed to have stepped up.

Lew conducted the first public test of his graphite composite bumper Tuesday at Wheeler’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and by all indications, the bumper could go a long way in protecting NASCAR Winston Cup drivers.

Tuesday’s “test”– ramming the right front of a Winston Cup car into the wall near the entrance to Turn 1 at between 130-140 mph – was little more than a demonstration, Wheeler said. But it also was similar to other crash tests of the $6,000 “Humpy Bumper,” and Lew’s data seems to prove the bumper will work.

“With this bumper in place, we absorbed a lot of energy,” Lew said after the test. “It doesn’t look like we’ve got much damage past the point where the front clip starts to flare out. It looks like the motor’s firmly attached. The radiator was loosely placed in, but I’m not sure the radiator took much damage at all, if any.”

The crash test Tuesday seemed much less violent than crashes seen on the Winston Cup tour. There was a dulled bang when the car hit the wall, instead of a crunching sound. Pieces of the car didn’t go flying like they usually do, and the car veered to the left instead of riding along the wall.

The deflection is a “very good thing,” Lew said, “because the energy doesn’t continue to be pushed back into the car and back into the driver.”

If the Humpy Bumper is such a good piece of safety equipment, how soon can we see it on a Winston Cup car? That’s a difficult question, for NASCAR received the full data of Lew’s crash tests only Monday night. Wheeler said he and Lew are due to meet with NASCAR officials next week to talk about the bumper.

“I don’t want to guess,” Lew said when asked about the chances for NASCAR approving the bumper. “I’m very, very pleased with the test data. The data’s solid. I can’t imagine a reason why NASCAR wouldn’t want to approve this because it’s going to save lives.”

Lew said NASCAR has been kept up to date on the testing and had officials present at tests at Wayne State University and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“What we’re talking about here is saving lives,” said Wheeler, who then picked up the current front “bumper,” welded aluminum tubing. “The quicker we can get this on the race cars, the better… We can’t wait. The sooner we get this bumper on these race cars, the better everybody’s going to feel.

“Not one thing is going to cure this whole problem. It’s a combination. It’s the seats, the seat belts, the head-and-neck restraints – and a cushioning effect at the front of a car.”

Lew’s company, Lew Composites of Las Vegas, has been working on an energy-absorbing front bumper since May, when Wheeler challenged him. Energy absorption has become a hot topic in the light of the crashes that took the lives of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt in the past 15 months.

As stock cars have become more rigid – which helps them run more consistently over a number of laps – they have increased the stress on drivers. When a car hits the wall, a lot of energy is absorbed by the driver.

Lew later unveiled video and data from similar car crashes he performed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and in both cases, the bumper seemed to help.

In a 25-degree crash without the bumper at a 36-mph wall speed, a car’s chassis experienced 56.6 Gs and 203,760 foot-pounds of energy. With the bumper at a slightly higher speed, 41 mph, the G-force was dropped to 13.5 and 48,600 foot-pounds of force.

The bumper also performed well in a 31-degree angled crash. At 36 mph without it, the G-force was 30.5 – including energy dissipated when a tire dislodged. With the bumper, the G force was 24.

Also, both of the car tests showed the crashes lasted longer with the bumper.

“Wall speed” is the velocity of a car as if were heading straight on into it, rather than pure “car speed,” which is the forward velocity of the car. Wall speed is considerably lower because a car is going sideways toward the wall and not straight into it.

Lew also performed tests of the bumper with a “bogie,” which is basically a sled with a Winston Cup front clip. In one crash of the bogie, the G-force on the bumper was 20.5, while the G-force on the driver was 9.5.

“We can say that it’s a 50 percent reduction,” Lew said. “Is 50 percent enough? I would say there are many cases when 50 percent makes the difference we need to see.”

Lew also addressed some other issues Tuesday.

The bumper won’t deliver more energy if it hits another car. At Bristol, for instance, where there’s a lot of pushing and bumping, Lew said his bumper wouldn’t even be involved because there are 5 inches of clearance between the front air dam and the bumper.

In the event of a T-bone crash, the bumper absorbs much of the impact.

“The bumper’s going to absorb an awful lot,” Lew said. “Instead of the motor hitting the car that’s being T-boned, the bumper hits the car and absorbs a lot of energy and keeps the motor from coming in through the door.”

Some critics have said the bumper makes the front of the car too stiff. Lew tested that by weakening the front clip, making the bumper “excessively stiff, in our opinion.”

“We wanted to find out, if in fact, someone could make the claim, ‘The bumper was too stiff,’ ” Lew said. “What we saw is the bumper dissipated a tremendous amount of energy. It didn’t make the crash last any longer because the front clip crumpled very quickly. But it did take a lot of energy out the hit.”

Lew’s data showed it reduced the force of 50Gs at the bumper to 11.5Gs at the chassis on the softened-clip crash.

Lew said his company has spent close to $3 million in testing, employing researchers at the University of Dayton and using the same computer program that helped model Earnhardt’s crash in the Daytona 500. Other companies have donated time and money to the project, including Randy LaJoie’s race-seat company.

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