NASCAR Continues To Focus On Safety

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - 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. (see below)

    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 Releases New Access Policy
    The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing also has instituted an access policy for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series garage and pit areas, designed to alleviate overcrowding and improve safety and security in the 2003 season and beyond.

    The policy, which goes into effect next month for season-opening events at Daytona International Speedway, is based on the designation of "hot" and "cold" times in the garage and pit areas and the requirement that some people have a "hot pass" allowing them garage and pit road access during "hot" times.

    NASCAR and its tracks will issue "hot passes" prior to and during a race weekend. Those passes must be accompanied by a normal NASCAR or track-issued paper credential for access during hot times.

    Those possessing a NASCAR season credential -- commonly referred to as a "hard card" -- will not be required to have a hot pass. Accredited news media personnel will have the access they have been granted in past seasons.

    "Hot" times for the garage will begin 30 minutes prior to any scheduled on-track race-car activity, and will end approximately 10 minutes after the on-track activity -- including practices, qualifying sessions and races -- concludes. At other times the garage will be considered "cold."

    In addition to the garage restrictions, pits will be designated as hot 30 minutes prior to the start of a race and will remain so until a race ends.

    "Our goal is to reduce the number of people in the garage and in the pits," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president for corporate communications. "We want to significantly reduce the number of people."

    To help facilitate adherence to the access policy, large, red, strobe-like lights will be prominently positioned in the garage area to signify hot times.

    NASCAR reviewed the issue of allowing autographs in the garage area and determined the establishment of hot and cold times should inherently reduce the number of autograph-seekers.

    NASCAR will continue to monitor the new access policy as the season unfolds, and will make changes as needed.

    Said NASCAR President Mike Helton: "We're constantly working to improve the environment for everyone involved with NASCAR Winston Cup racing. This policy is all about two issues -- safety and security. And this policy should improve the environment considerably."


    NASCAR WINSTON CUP SERIES ACCESS POLICY FAST FACTS

    What is a "hot" pass?

  • A hot pass, which will be issued by NASCAR and track during a race weekend, allows the holder access into the garage area and pit area during "hot times." A hot pass by itself will not allow the holder access; it must be accompanied by a credential issued by NASCAR or a track.

    What is the difference between "hot" and "cold" times?

  • A hot time for the garage area is defined as a period beginning 30 minutes before any on-track race-car activity, and ending approximately 10 minutes after that activity. All other times are considered cold. A hot time for the pits is defined as a period beginning 30 minutes before the start of a race, and ending when the race ends.

    What is the reasoning behind the access policy?

  • To significantly reduce the number of people who have access to the garage and pits during a race weekend and, in the process, increase safety and security in the garage and pits.

    Will media be issued hot passes?

  • Media members who have a NASCAR-issued season credential -- commonly referred to as a "hard card" -- will not need a hot pass for garage/pit area access. Other accredited media members who do not possess a hard card will have to request a hot pass.

    Will other "hard-card" holders be required to have hot passes for garage/pit area access?

  • No. Those possessing a hard card will have access during hot and cold times
  • Related Topics:

    NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003, Daytona 500

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