Motor Sports Facilities

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On-Track Safety Issues Still Plague NASCAR

29 Mar, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
If Technology Exists to Pad Walls, Say Drivers, Why Isn’t It Used Throughout Tracks?

Recent improvements in motor sports facilities have brought about a more improved level of safety, but the improvements are not employed consistently, say top drivers. The February crash at Daytona that injured Kyle Busch (he still has not said when or if he will return to competition) has pros and officials taking a second look at the safeguards that currently exist.

"You never can do enough to be safe and keep the competitors safe and keep the fans safe," Dale Earnhardt, Jr., said recently during an interview with USA Today at Martinsville Speedway. "So you shouldn't ever stop trying. But unfortunately, it takes an accident like that to wake everybody up and make things happen."

Busch’s car collided with an unpadded wall at Daytona, the same track on which NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt was killed in 2001.

In most places, SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers (sometimes referred to as 'soft walls') have been in use at NASCAR tracks since 2002. That technology, along with the HANS device and other safety measures, followed Earnhardt’s death. Not all areas of the track are padded, however; the area where Busch crashed, for example, was not.

"I know that NASCAR was very disappointed that there wasn't a SAFER barrier on the wall at Daytona and that Kyle was injured," Earnhardt, Jr. told USA Today. "And it's real unfortunate to have to go through that whole process to really fire this thing kind of back up and get people moving on it."

Since Busch's crash, tracks have scrambled to make plans for more SAFER barriers and placed temporary tire stacks against some walls. According to Earnhardt, Jr., however, impact with the tires send cars skidding off in unpredictable directions. “Nothing is better than a SAFER barrier,” he noted.

In an article entitled, "NASCAR Needs SAFER Barriers Everywhere. Now,” USA Today writer Jeff Gluck noted, “a $400 million renovation project called Daytona Rising has left NASCAR's most important racetrack under construction for this year's Daytona 500. A portion of Daytona Rising is now open, allowing fans to experience wide concourses and nicer bathrooms. What those fans won't experience is watching Kyle Busch race in the Daytona 500 on Sunday after he collided with an unprotected concrete wall during Saturday's Xfinity Series race. Daytona is making many improvements to its facility. But you know where those improvements can't be seen? On the walls of the track itself.

It comes down to money, of course. SAFER barriers are expensive; they cost $500 per foot. That can get costly at a track like Daytona, which is 2.5 miles long. On the other hand, when Daytona just spent $400 million to be more like an NFL stadium and NASCAR just signed a new $8.2 billion TV deal, you'd think the money would be available somewhere.”

Following Busch’s crash, drivers made public statements and took to social media in a frenzy. Regan Smith noted, "I'm genuinely furious right now. Any wall in any of the top three series without SAFER barriers is INEXCUSABLE. It's 2015."

"Especially on the superspeedway stuff, there really shouldn't even be a conversation," Kevin Harvick told USA TODAY Sports. "Especially at Daytona where you see them spending $400 million on a renovation, I think setting the standard from a safety standpoint with soft walls on all walls that are available to hit in a superspeedway race should be a no-brainer."

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