Safety Past News 2003


  • Chase Car: NASCAR added a "chase vehicle" to its repertoire of emergency vehicles last season, designed to add an extra layer of communication and safety in case of accidents during Winston Cup races. ASCAR president Mike Helton said the chase vehicle is not specifically an extra emergency vehicle to serve in a medical capacity, but it is to help give some familiarity to drivers involved in accidents. "We have a vehicle on the racetrack that we put into play last year that will respond to a scene," Helton said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "It is a NASCAR official, a person that the drivers will be familiar with, a face that the drivers will be familiar with." Last weekend at Watkins Glen International, drivers Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon criticized emergency workers for their slow response to getting to wrecked cars. NASCAR employs local emergency personnel to staff tracks, and Helton said the sanctioning body wouldn't swerve from that policy. Helton said there is only one chase vehicle at the racetrack, but road courses like Watkins Glen makes it difficult for one vehicle to cover the entire circuit. Helton said adding extra chase cars for road courses probably won't happen. But Helton said NASCAR would be open to change. The NASCAR official who mans the chase vehicle drives to the scene of the accident as soon as possible, but stays away from the immediate area to let the safety crew work. If the driver chooses not to ride in the ambulance, the chase vehicle takes the driver to the infield care center.(see full story at NASCAR.com)(8-16-2003)

  • New Fire Suppression System Required at MIS: This event marks the first where the new NASCAR-mandated trunk-mounted fire suppression system will be required. The new system, with automatic and manual triggering systems, is meant to give the drivers a few extra moments of safety in the case of a car fire after a rear impact. Recently, several drivers experienced frightening situations in rear impact accidents with the walls. The teams rose to the occasion nicely with Winston Cup director John Darby giving a nod to the teams that work in his garage. “Any issues surrounded more installation rather than the actual parts and pieces,” Darby told TFR. “I would say that the garage put on a very impressive performance on getting everything up ad running.” Darby added, “Very, very nice installations and substantial mounting brackets, the kind of stuff we [NASCAR] like.” Explaining the operational aspect of the system Darby said, “With the Halon agents that we use they are a flooding agent. In other words, once they’re released they flood whatever area they’re in. “The thought is on impact if a fire ignites the bottle that we have for the trunk automatically fires on heat sensing. And when it does it floods the whole area where the fire is. This will give the drivers more time to get out of the car.”(Team Ford Racing)(8-16-2003)

  • Drivers willing to pay for safety crews: #48-Jimmie Johnson said that drivers are willing to spend their own money to provide a full-time traveling safety team that NASCAR executives have steadfastly refused to pay for. 'I guarantee you that is something every driver would like to see happen,' Johnson said of canning the dangerous yellow-flag racing rule. 'And if it was required of the drivers to help in the funding of that safety team, I think the drivers would all participate. I'd like to see us put something in place like the CART series has, with a traveling group of (safety) people that all the drivers know and all the team members know, that are trained professionals and know our race cars inside and out and can respond immediately and be there on time. I know Alex Zanardi, and I know people that work with him. If that crew of people that CART has was not there and didn't start working on him immediately and rode on the helicopter with him to the hospital, Alex wouldn't be here today." Safety has resurfaced as an issue among NASCAR drivers, particularly the slow response time of emergency teams - in part because of NASCAR's rule about racing back to the caution flag - and the difficulty in getting out of a wrecked car. Racing back to the yellow, Johnson said, is part of the problem. 'That's a big part of it,' Johnson said. 'The last thing we want to do is put an ambulance or truck full of safety workers in harm's way because we race back to the caution. On a road course I think you could probably roll a little easier in come cases. But on an oval you've got cars coming at 200 mph. You've got to wait until everybody is contained by the pace car." NASCAR has a new emergency roof hatch that is expected to be approved later this summer. But some drivers are wary about installing it.(Winston Salem Journal)(8-14-2003)

  • Simpson Update: Speculation in the garage is that safety guru Bill Simpson settled his suit with NASCAR out of court in order to simplify the distribution of his new product line, Impact Racing, which features, among other things, improved helmets. Simpson says he has pressurized the helmet with air from the top, which keeps carbon monoxide away from the driver's face and prevents the visor from getting clogged up. The helmet is a pound lighter than his previous models, which is better on the neck during impact. Joe Nemechek, Ricky Craven, Casey Mears and Rusty, Kenny and Mike Wallace are wearing the new helmets.(Sporting News)(8-11-2003)

  • Safety Plans: NASCAR is looking at long-term and short-term answers to safety concerns.
    SHORT TERM
    -- An escape hatch on stock cars could be ready in two weeks that would be optional for competitiors to use during the rest of the Winston Cup season.
    -- Beginning next week, a heat sensitive fire extinguisher will be required near the cars' fuel cell.
    -- Indy already has soft walls. Richmond and New Hampshire will have them by this fall's races.
    LONG TERM
    -- NASCAR is working on a new fuel cell that would prevent fires from ever starting.
    -- A larger driver compartment has been developed but will need to be integrated into the stock cars.
    -- NASCAR is testing aluminum foam to be placed in the car to absorb some of the G-forces generated in crashes.(story and more detail at the Daytona Beach News Journal)(8-1-2003)

  • NASCAR to require Cup, Busch, Truck teams to add fuel cell area fire extinuisher: NASCAR officials announced today that all vehicles in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will require an additional fire-extinguishing cylinder solely dedicated to the fuel cell area, effective Aug. 13 but recommended immediately. An automatic, thermally activated discharge nozzle recommended by the manufacturer for this application must activate the cylinder, which is required to be made of DOT-approved metal. The automatic system may have a manual and/or pneumatic override from the driver-activated system. The cylinder must be mounted in the driver's compartment and will attach to a steel bracket welded to the frame and/or roll cage of the vehicle. When discharged, the extinguisher releases Halon in the area of the fire. Halon, a proven and extremely effective fire suppressant, is a liquefied compressed gas that stops the spread of fire by chemically disrupting combustion. A minimum of 10 pounds of fire extinguishing agent is required in the cylinder for the fuel cell area. In addition to the fire extinguisher cylinder being added for the fuel cell area, NASCAR has enhanced its requirements and specifications for the current on-board driver protection system as well as the fuel cell vent area. The cockpit extinguisher, a manually controlled push or pull knob that activates a fully charged fire-extinguishing pressurized cylinder, now must contain a minimum of five pounds of extinguishing agent. Should the cylinder also be used for fire extinguishing in the engine compartment, it must contain a minimum of 10 pounds of extinguishing agent. The cylinder also must be securely mounted to the frame and/or roll cage, and hose clamps, worm drive clamps and cable ties are not permitted. In addition, all discharge lines and fittings for the cylinders must be steel or steel-reinforced hose although the nozzles may remain aluminum. A maximum length for the neck of the fuel cell check valve vent hose has been set at three inches. By limiting length, it will make the component more impact resistant. The neck connects the fuel cell to the fuel cell vent hose and is located inside the trunk area of the vehicle. To accommodate the maximum neck length standard, fuel cell vent hoses will increase in length from 60 inches to a maximum of 66 inches.(NASCAR PR)(7-30-2003)

  • Roof Hatch to be tested on August 6th: NASCAR will conduct a test of its alternate exit, or more commonly known as the roof hatch, on Aug. 6 at the Midwest Roadside Facility in Lincoln, Neb. NASCAR, which is working closely with facility director Dr. Dean Sicking on this project, will conduct a crash test that will simulate a rollover-type accident. A successful test could lead to a recommendation of the safety component by NASCAR to teams in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series. This safety initiative will provide drivers with an alternate exit through a hatch in the roof of the car in the event of an emergency situation.(NASCAR PR)(7-30-2003)

  • Rusty's Car to get new fire-suppression system: #2-Rusty Wallace's crew will be laying out a new in-car fire-suppression system today, with a new engine-compartment extinguisher and a high-tech-foam extinguisher in the trunk. The foam should be more effective than standard Halon. However, NASCAR has been reluctant to OK the special foam agent, even though it would be safer for a driver than Halon (which is toxic in such close confines), because foam might make the track more slippery.(full story at the Winston Salem Journal)(7-21-2003)

  • Fire Safety Ideas: #01 crew chief Ryan Pemberton said he likes the proposed in-trunk fire extinguishers. "And we need to do something about these fuel pumps, put them in a different area," Pemberton said. "We're probably the only racers still running stock mechanical fuel pumps." Pemberton said NASCAR should change to electric fuel pumps, and crew chief Chad Knaus said he agrees. "When a fire erupts under the hood, it's usually because somebody has hit the wall and knocked the fuel pump off," Knaus said. "So I think we should go to electric fuel pumps to keep that from happening. Production cars have fuel pumps that shut off automatically when you crash or turn upside down, and we can do the same."(Winston Salem Journal)(7-20-2003)

  • NASCAR Experimental Escape Hatch: Ken Schrader Discusses Test: Ken Schrader, driver of the #49 At&T Dodge for BAM Racing, Tested NASCAR's Experimental Escape Hatch [or as NASCAR calls it - Alternative Exit] Recently. NASCAR has made no announcements regarding it. Schrader's comment's: “NASCAR just called me up and asked if I would go over to the Tech Center there in Mooresville (N.C.) and try out the new escape hatch. To me it’s a wonderful improvement, looks fairly easy to implement, and it’s not complex. Personally I can’t see any draw backs . . .you know, makes perfect sense. It’s going to make a big difference, especially after an accident that ends with the driver’s side up against the wall. Now, you can’t get out of the driver’s side in that situation, because a lot of these walls are higher than the top of the car. With the escape hatch you can get out just as quickly as any other situation.. It’s also easier for emergency workers to get to the driver in that situation. You still have to unfasten all the safety equipment, so as far as it saving time in other situations, I’m not sure it will. However, now it’s impossible to get out with the wall right beside you - with the escape hatch you will be able to. I look for the thing to be implemented soon. Personally, I think it’s great.”(Williams Company of America PR)(7-16-2003)

  • Black Flag from ThatsRacin.com - the #18 Fire: Even though Newman did win, the "something huge" he talked about nearly happened on Lap 215 when Bobby Labonte's Chevrolet caught fire when it backed into the wall and had its fuel cell erupt during a seven-car crash. Labonte allowed his car to roll down the banking to the apron and immediately began scrambling out of the cockpit. He squeezed out just as track safety crews arrived. "I'm fine," he said after the scary incident. "I smell like a barbecue pit, but I'm OK."
    The Black Flag: How many more times do we need to see drivers scrambling out of burning race cars to get things moving? Hey, NASCAR, hire a traveling safety team already and end the madness of racing back to the yellow flag so the safety vehicles can get rolling when a wreck happens. And, while you're at it, get those escape hatches in the cars' roofs, too.(ThatsRacin.com)(7-14-2003)
    AND The most frightening moment came when Bobby Labonte's #18 car burst into flames when he backed into the wall after getting tagged by #10-Johnny Benson, caught up in a tussle with #41-Casey Mears on the 215th of 267 laps. "I thought I had it made," Labonte said of his dramatic crash. "And then we had this problem with the fuel cell blowing up, and it made for a bad scene. It looked worse than it was. I smell like a barbeque pit, but I'm fine." NASCAR confiscated his car for further examination.(Winston Salem Journal)(7-14-2003)

  • Hatch Test: NASCAR was scheduled to test the “ultimate exit,” a rooftop escape hatch, this week at the University of Nebraska. Technical director Gary Nelson said engineers planned to hook a car to a cable and pull the car into the SAFER wall at 135-plus mph to see what happened to the barrier, the test dummy and the new hatch during the crash. Nelson planned to roll the car over during the test. With that additional data, NASCAR hopes to make a decision about how soon the hatch can be installed in racecars.(Sporting News)
    AND Another area where NASCAR is attempting to address safety issues deals with driver escape hatches, and how to best implement a workable system into the roofs of the cars to allow for easier driver exit in the case of a wreck. “In my opinion NASCAR needs to work on expediting a roof hatch,” Jeff Burton said of the ongoing project. “The effort is there. The desire is there but there are times when I wish they could expedite a little better. How can you make it so it opens to the left or to the right because you might have to open it one way or the other way, or the bottom or the rear. When you start getting into OK, how do you do it? NASCAR painted some scenarios where the thing wouldn’t open with what they had done [in an original design]. So they had to go back and come up with a different idea. There are a lot of things that go into it and that’s why it feels like it doesn’t happen quick enough. NASCAR tries to paint every scenario and then they go through a practice and they come up with something. Then they’ve got to go paint another scenario. Then they’ve got to redo everything. Their unwillingness to compromise on the unknown is why it’s slow,” Burton added. “Some people could say, ‘Well, I’d rather have something that doesn’t work very well versus something that doesn’t work at all and so those people get impatient. But then it’s wrong to do something that’s worse than what you’re doing. There have been many examples where I’ve had conversations and I’ve said, ‘What the hell, let’s just do it.’ And it’s like, ‘Well, yeah but look at this’ and they’d walk me through some scenarios that I hadn’t thought about and I’d say, ‘Yeah, it was more complicated than I thought it was.’” NASCAR’s Darby told TFR Thursday that the full court press is on to get the roof hatch completed and that some crash testing will be required before the system is implemented. Darby cited several reasons why the roof hatch is not as simple to implement as say roof flaps. The roof flaps, which are the only approved pieces that are supplied as kits, attach only to the cars’ roof sheetmetal. The roof hatch, however, would need to be secured to the roll bars to give it the strength it needs in the case of a rollover accident. Slowing the process somewhat are the roll bars which, while close to being standardized, are not at a point where a “one size fits all” approach can be taken, such as is the case with roof flaps.(Ford Racing)(7-7-2003)

  • Safety Meeting UPDATE and the hatch: NASCAR has driver safety update meetings scheduled for July 4th for competitors in the Cup and Busch Series at Daytona. The series has been holding such meetings a couple of times a year or so since Dale Earnhardt 's fatal crash at Daytona in 2001.(Roanoke Times)(6-23-2003)
    UPDATE: NASCAR has a safety seminar scheduled for Winston Cup drivers this morning, to bring them up to speed on projects like the roof escape hatch and third roof spoiler. The seminar is expected to be closed to the media.(Winston Salem Journal) AND NASCAR's Gary Nelson said NASCAR is moving ahead with other safety devices. A rooftop escape hatch is now a top priority, and its worthiness will be tested at the University of Nebraska's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility. 'We're hoping to induce a rollover and see how it performs,' Nelson said. 'It's directly above the driver.' The hatch could be extremely important if there is a fire. Neither Ken Schrader nor Dale Jarrett was injured after their cars burst into flames after crashes last month at Pocono Raceway, but both drivers had to squeeze through narrow side windows and barely escaped being burned. Nelson said hatches will be an immediate option for teams this season and probably mandatory next year if the Nebraska test goes well. Jimmy Spencer said he was impressed when he saw the hatch.(Winston Salem Journal/AP)
    AND more on the hatch: NASCAR's stock cars may soon have escape hatches. ''You mean alternative exits,'' said Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director of competition who is now headquartered in NASCAR's new research and development center at Concord. Several drivers tried out the car equipped with the roof exit. It's almost like a T-top. NASCAR plans to take a car donated by Michael Waltrip's team and fit it with the new exit to take to its testing facility in Nebraska next week. If it passes the safety tests, Nelson said it will become an option for drivers. The cost is minimal. ''It's for some of the bigger guys,'' Nelson said. ``Small guys maybe don't need it. I saw Matt Kenseth a year ago jump out of his car in a blink of an eye. Maybe he wouldn't see the need for it, but it would maybe be good for the bigger guy who has to shoehorn himself in and out.'' Winston Cup drivers Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Ken Schrader and Busch Series driver Coy Gibbs have all tried it, and Nelson said they liked it.(Miami Herald)(7-4-2003)

  • Fireproof Hoods: Ryan Newman pulled aside veteran driver Bill Elliott at Infineon Raceway last weekend to ask him about the fireproof hoods, which are common in other series but are used by only a handful of NASCAR drivers, Elliott and Kyle Petty included. Newman, who sustained slight burns in an accident June 8 at Michigan International Speedway, says his unwillingness to try wearing a hood was "just more laziness than anything." Winston Cup series director John Darby says NASCAR is not requiring drivers to wear the hoods and notes that many helmets have fireproof lining that serves the same function. "I think every driver is aware of the fact that they have the option to pick their own protective clothing," he says.(USA Today)(6-24-2003)

  • Safety Meeting: NASCAR has driver safety update meetings scheduled for July 4th for competitors in the Cup and Busch Series at Daytona. The series has been holding such meetings a couple of times a year or so since Dale Earnhardt 's fatal crash at Daytona in 2001.(Roanoke Times)(6-23-2003)

  • Third Roof Flap: NASCAR will gather information on a third roof flap during a wind-tunnel test Tuesday night near Detroit. Managing director of competition Gary Nelson showed Totally NASCAR how the additional flap operates at NASCAR's R&D center in Concord, N.C. If the test goes well, the third roof flap could be in place before the end of the season.(Fox Sports Net's Totally NASCAR)(5-28-2003)

  • G-force Sensor: The Indy Racing League tested a new g-force sensor that drivers wore as part of their ear plugs in the Indianapolis 500. The sensor is expected to provide a more accurate reading of the impact of a crash to a driver's body. Technical director Gary Nelson says NASCAR is looking at testing a similar device.(Sporting News)(5-26-2003)

  • 48G's for Elliott: it was reported during Speed Channel's Cup Qualifying coverage that #9-Bill Elliott's Dodge took a 48-G hit in the accident during the Winston in which Elliott broke 3 bones in his left foot.(5-23-2003)

  • Carbon-monoxide Catalyst gets NASCAR's approval: NASCAR officials on Friday approved a catalyst component for use in its Winston Cup, Busch and Trucks series to reduce carbon monoxide emissions. The device, which has been one of the top projects at NASCAR's research and development center, is optional for teams but may be used in this weekend's Busch and Cup races at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Gary Nelson, the managing director of competition, led an expert study group to devise the catalyst, which has shown to reduce carbon monoxide levels by as much as 75 percent. "Experts concluded the levels of carbon monoxide were not at an alarming level, but we wanted to ensure our drivers of the best possible environment to compete in," Nelson said. A prototype device was used by Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart at last month's race at Martinsville, Va., and additional tests were made at California and Richmond. The new component costs about $400 and takes less than two hours to install.(ThatsRacin.com)(5-23-2003)

  • 2nd Tether Requirement Expanded: NASCAR expanded its requirement of a second tether for the front wheels for NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series entries to all tracks, effective May 28. The new rule for NASCAR's national series is an amendment to the NASCAR Technical Bulletin issued April 12 that required a second tether on the front wheels at events on tracks that were 1.25 miles or more in length, excluding road courses. The first race in which the requirement was in effect was the April 27 race at the 2-mile California Speedway. With this weekend's competition at the 1.5-mile Lowe's Motor Speedway already covered under the initial amendment, the new requirement will officially begin May 28, when all three national series are competing at the 1-mile Dover International Speedway. The tethers are required to consist of two Vectran HS V-12 fiber cables.(NASCAR PR)(5-20-2003)

  • Catalyst could be in place at the Coke 600: It's only been six months since NASCAR opened the doors of its $10 million, 64,000 square-foot research and development center near the Concord Regional Airport. Yet already the sport is reaping the benefits. Perhaps as early as Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, NASCAR's latest safety enhancement – a catalyst to reduce carbon monoxide exposure to drivers – could be in place.(ThatsRacin.com)(5-20-2003)

  • Among Safety Projects Underway by the NASCAR R&D Center:
    -- Testing continues on the addition of a third roof flap, to help prevent cars from becoming airborne during accidents.
    -- A study of head and neck restraint systems and the development of standards to measure the effectiveness of new devices.
    -- Continued development of "soft wall" technology and the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) system. Testing was recently completed on SAFER systems similar to walls used at tracks like Richmond and Loudon
    -- Continued work on "aero matching" – getting different manufacturers body styles to produce similar aerodynamic results. Nelson said the Winston Cup and Busch series are fairly "aero-matched," but the NASCAR Truck series "still needs work."
    -- An investigation into driver Jerry Nadeau's accident at Richmond earlier this month. Nadeau hit the wall on the driver's side and remains hospitalized in Richmond in fair condition and semi-conscious.
    -- A side impact study and testing of possible new aluminum inserts in the sides of cars.(ThatsRacin.com)(5-20-2003)

  • 160 G's? UPDATE so what the heck is a G-FORCE? Sources say Jerry Nadeau's wreck at Richmond registered 160 G-forces, double the hardest hit recorded since NASCAR started using black boxes in 2002. That Nadeau survived is a testament to safety enhancements made since Dale Earnhardt's death in February 2001. Nadeau remains hospitalized; he is semiconscious and in fair condition.(Sporting News)(5-19-2003)
    SO WHAT IS G-FORCE: was asked a few times about this, had no clue, so checked out a Jayski fave site: howstuffworks and.....One G is the force of Earth's gravity -- it is this force that determines how much we weigh. Back in 2001 CART cancelled a race at the Texas Motor Speedway because the drivers experienced dizziness after as few as 10 laps. The combination of high speeds and tight turns at Texas Motor Speedway produces forces of almost 5 Gs in the turns. the space shuttle only develops 3 Gs when it takes off. See the full story at howstuffworks: How do you calculate G-forces?.(5-20-2003)

  • Roof Hatch - Day III: NASCAR drivers could be riding in cars equipped with roof exits before the end of this season. Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director of competition, said recent developments have put the roof hatch program on the fast track. "We made a big step in the last week or so," Nelson said. "What we hope to have happen is to make it optional [for teams] very soon." Nelson said the hatch will open from several directions, allowing drivers to escape no matter how the car lands after a crash. He also said the hatch, which is designed to be easily operated by rescue workers as well as drivers, could be used for routine entry and exit from the car. "One of our engineers said that if we get this thing right, it'll be so slick that a lot of drivers will just put one foot on the door and jump through the top," he said. Nelson also is working on energy-absorbing materials that can be placed between the door bars and the sheet metal on the driver's side door. That would offer protection in crashes like Jerry Nadeau's at Richmond and Kyle Petty's at Bristol. In those wrecks, the driver's door slammed squarely into the wall, creating the highest impact readings since NASCAR began equipping cars with "black box" impact data recorders. "They were just flush hits, and we haven't seen many like that," Nelson said. "That got us stirred up to where we're putting a lot of resources into that area."(Atlanta Journal-Constitution), see past news about this on my Safety Page.(5-18-2003)

  • More on Carbon Monoxide Filter System: NASCAR is close to approving a carbon monoxide filter system for Winston Cup cars as well as escape hatches on the cars' roofs. Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director of competition, said Friday he believes the carbon monoxide system, called a catalyst and based on space technology used to clean air, will be available for use in the Winston Cup series in the coming weeks. Nelson would not put a definite timetable on approval, but said drivers wanting to test the system in a race leading up to its official approval were welcome to do so. Track safety workers at all NASCAR tracks are also being trained on detecting symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, so drivers can be treated effectively, Nelson said.(ThatsRacin.com, see past news on my Safety News page)(5-17-2003)

  • More on Roof Hatches: Roof escapes, which have been promoted by some of the series' larger drivers who have a more difficult time exiting cars following crashes, should be available for use by the end of the season, Nelson said. One of Nelson's engineers at NASCAR's research and development center came up with the idea currently being tested on the escape hatch, which utilizes a pull-cord to allow two different ways of opening the hatch. The roof hatch will be optional, not required.(ThatsRacin.com, see past news on my Safety News page)(5-17-2003)

  • Data Wanted from NASCAR: Dan Davis, the head of Ford's racing division, said he still hasn't been told what happened in Jerry Nadeau's crash at Richmond two weeks ago, and he's calling for a more open investigation, including a complete reconstruction of the accident and a computer analysis of the possible G-forces on Nadeau's head and body through computer simulation. "What I would like to do with the Nadeau thing - and we have not been involved up 'til now in any great degree - is let's go analyze what happened," Davis said yesterday during a tour of NASCAR race shops. 'Let's computer-model that situation. "I don't know how his head hit, I don't know the actual physics of what occurred. But it would seem to me it would be important to understand the physics of what occurred. I have a vested interest, no matter who the driver is. We will do everything we're allowed to do, and we will push as hard as we can."(Winston Salem Journal)(5-16-2003)

  • Air Bags? Would side impact air bags have helped protect Jerry Nadeau better? "We did look at air bags about six or seven years ago, in TransAm, and there are a lot of issues,' Dan Davis, the head of Ford's racing division, said. "The more you tried to make that work, the more you found there were situations where it didn't work. There was a crash test done, there were systems being designed. But the further we got into the program the more nervous we got about it working. For example - multiple hits. How does the bag react?"(Winston Salem Journal)(5-16-2003)

  • Drivers May Soon Have Cleaner Air in Their Cars: NASCAR is close to approving an air-purifying system for racecars to reduce the carbon-monoxide fumes to which drivers are exposed. Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director for competition, said today [Thursday] that a new system, called a catalyst, could be installed in the passenger compartments of cars in time for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25 here at Lowe's Motor Speedway. NASCAR began studying carbon-monoxide exposure when Rick Mast, a longtime driver, stopped racing last year after learning he had chronic and acute carbon-monoxide poisoning, which causes headaches, nausea and dizziness. Nelson said some details must be worked out before the system was approved, but he said he wanted the catalysts available by the Coca-Cola 600. It is the only 600-mile race on the schedule and exposes drivers to carbon monoxide for a longer period. Even if the catalysts are available, Nascar officials will make them optional, not mandatory. NASCAR also will continue to test drivers' carbon-monoxide levels before and after races. The tests are voluntary, with 5 to 10 drivers tested each race. Nelson said that he would not reveal the results of the tests until Nascar's study is complete, but that carbon-monoxide levels found in drivers were not dangerously high.(New York Times may be to register to read)(5-16-2003)

  • Escape Hatch Proposed: The extensive injuries suffered by Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau in a crash at Richmond International Raceway this month have some of the series' physically bigger drivers talking to NASCAR about escape hatches. Similar to the setup found in the roofs of NHRA Funny Car bodies, the hatch idea for NASCAR was proposed last summer by native Texan Bobby Labonte. #38-Elliott Sadler, who is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, said the idea definitely has merit. "I would really like to see that come, being a big guy," said Sadler, driver of the No. 38 Ford Taurus at Robert Yates Racing. "I cannot sit here and tell you that if my car hits driver-side and catches on fire, that I can get out of the right side. It's an easy thing to do in the shop when there is no panic, but if there's a fire or something going on, I think it would be hard to do that. I would really like to see the hatches be put in place." Exiting a Cup car in duress has become increasingly difficult since NASCAR mandated use of the HANS Device.(Fort Worth Star Telegram)(5-15-2003)

  • Nadeau's hit the hardest: #01-Jerry Nadeau's driver's-side crash didn't resemble the head-on impacts involving Bobby Hamilton, Derrike Cope and Sterling Marlin last year at Richmond International Raceway. The accident, which put Nadeau in critical condition with head, rib and lung injuries, also was unique for its violence. The wreck ranked as the highest G-force spike reported by one of NASCAR's "black boxes," the data recorders installed at the beginning of the 2002 season to measure the impact of crashes by the force of gravity. "It was easily the hardest hit," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR's executive vice president for communications. "It was a whopper." NASCAR doesn't release the numbers recorded in impacts, but Nadeau's crash easily exceeded the previous hardest hit of a reported 80 Gs by Kyle Petty's car at Bristol Motor Speedway in March. The RIR wrecks involving Cope and Marlin reportedly topped 60 Gs, and Hamilton said he was told his truck crash into the Turn 1 wall at the 0.75-mile oval last September registered a hit of 58 Gs. "Jerry's car did not have any chance to scrub off any speed," Hunter said. "Normally you hit with a corner of a car. Kyle Petty hit with one corner and then the other before hitting sideways. In Jerry's case, the car almost hit perfectly flat against the wall." The driver's side is one of the most vulnerable areas during a crash because there is little separating the cockpit from the concrete. Gary Nelson, who runs NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., is working on a method to cushion the blow. Nelson is building a crash pad at the R&D Center to help gather data.(Richmond Times Dispatch)(5-11-2003)

  • Looking at a 'Bigger' Car in the future: NASCAR is testing crushable metals, such as aluminum foam, which could help absorb some of the shock of a crash. "On the advice of our two outside experts and car manufacturers, they said about 80 percent of what we could do to improve things would be inside the cockpit and the other 20 percent would be with the rest of the car," NASCAR's Jim Hunter said. He added that NASCAR is designing a "car of the future," which will be bigger and feature a larger cockpit area. "We have to do that over a period of years so we don't (make everything in the garage) obsolete overnight," Hunter said.(Daytona Beach News Journal)(5-7-2003)

  • Chase Vehicle Added: NASCAR's Jim Hunter said NASCAR recently has added a "chase" vehicle to its emergency crew lineup. The vehicle is the first on the scene of an wreck with a NASCAR official at the wheel and an EMT in the passenger seat. "Our position on the medical end is well known," Hunter said. "We prefer to use local EMTs who do that every day as a line of work. We always felt having a local group who does it every day is better than having somebody travel who does it so many weekends a year."(Daytona Beach News Journal)(5-7-2003)

  • NASCAR Safety Process: For those who watched the Richmond International Raceway event last week you might have noticed that the drivers were either fetching their helmets and Head And Neck Safety or Hutchins device, or having them brought to them following the various incidents of the night. This process, which has become part of ritual of a post-incident ride to the infield care center since 2002, gives attending doctors more information as they check to see if a driver might have sustained injuries during the course of a wreck. After the physicians are done with the helmet and head restraint it is turned over to NASCAR’s chief accident investigator, Jerry Kaproth. Kaproth and his accident investigators inspect the driver safety devices and take digital photos of them if there are any issues of merit with the pieces. NASCAR, with each accident, takes a full set of digital photos of the car, which provide a visual record of what worked and areas of the car that might need closer review. This data, along with the “Independent Witness”, the black box data recorder information is then entered into a incident data file. NASCAR routinely reviews these data sets with safety experts to see if there’s an immediate fix required, or if the car acted in a predictable fashion. Men, including General Motor’s Tom Gideon and NASCAR safety consultant, John Melvin, review the data upon NASCAR’s request.(Ford Racing)(5-7-2003)

  • New Concussion test helps determine readiness: Concussions are a fact of life in automobile racing, where crashing into a concrete wall at high speed is relatively common. Until now, one of the most difficult decisions facing doctors who treat race drivers for concussions has been knowing when a driver is well enough to return to a race car. Now, thanks to Mark Lovell, director of the Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, there is a new, important tool. It's call ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. That's a formal way of describing a computer test devised by Lovell and Pittsburgh Steelers team neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon, in conjunction with several of Lovell's former colleagues at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. The test, which takes 22 minutes the first time and a little less in subsequent uses, measures memory, reaction time, mental speed, information processing, anticipation time and other functions of the brain affected by concussions. The idea is to administer the test while the subject is healthy -- at the start of the season, preferably. That sets a "baseline" with which to measure further tests after a head injury. In auto racing, CART has been using the test since last year, all the Indy Racing League drivers will take the test as part of their physical for entering the May 25 Indianapolis 500, Formula One has the software and plans to implement the program as soon as possible, and NASCAR is studying it. Gary Nelson, managing director of competition for NASCAR, said some drivers are using it on a volunteer basis. Steve Park, who missed the last eight Winston Cup races of 2001 and the first four events of 2002, flew to Pittsburgh in February to take the ImPACT test. Park said he wishes he had known about the test before a crash, at Darlington in a Busch Series car, that temporarily left him with blurred vision and slurred speech.(full story at ESPN/AP)(5-1-2003)

  • Medical Liasons: NASCAR, which focused much of its attention on the mechanized end of stock-car racing, now has keen interest in the human part of the equation. While the sanctioning body has always had a team of officials to measure car bodies and engine specs, it now has a medical liaison for each of its three major touring series. The original primary function of this medical staff, all registered nurses, was to transport records from event to event as Winston Cup, the Busch Series and Truck Series skipped around the country. The three nurses -- Robin Morrisey (Cup), Denese Meeks (Busch) and Lance Davin (trucks) -- were hired in February, 2002, and integrated into NASCAR's regular at-track staff. Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's managing director of business operations, oversees the program. Because of confidentiality concerns, the nurses are not allowed to speak to media.(Daytona Beach News Journal)(4-27-2003)

  • Stewart thinks NASCAR should have safety crew: Defending champion Tony Stewart wonders why NASCAR doesn't have a traveling safety team. While NASCAR has made changes to improve safety, it has not created a safety team that goes from race to race. Both the Indy Racing League and CART have a trained team of safety workers to respond to each accident. NASCAR has a medical liaison at the track while relying on local firefighters and emergency workers to go to the accident scenes. "I've tried to get NASCAR to get their own safety crew," Stewart said. "When I ran in the IRL ... you always felt comfortable knowing that if you were in an accident you knew who the people were who were coming to get you out of the car. You knew they were trained properly. Having the medical liaison there each week is a step in the right direction. At times it's frustrating that we haven't gone any farther than that, but at the same time I kind of applaud NASCAR for at least using their heads. They don't do things very fast a lot of times but when they do get something done it's been well thought out, and I think they're looking at that now. I'm praying for the day I show up at the race track and we see a bunch of guys in uniform that are the same guys we see the week before in the previous race and the week before that."(Roanoke Times)(4-23-2003)

  • NASCAR Testing Device: NASCAR is testing a device designed to reduce or eliminate dangerous carbon monoxide fumes being inhaled by drivers. Gary Nelson, NASCAR's managing director of competition, called it a "catalyst system," and said Tuesday that it was used two weeks ago in Martinsville, Virginia, by Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart during practice and the race. Stewart was sickened by carbon monoxide fumes during a race last fall at Martinsville Speedway, and the Joe Gibbs Racing team volunteered to be the first to test the new system. "We have a system we have been developing in our laboratory and thought it was time to try it at the track," Nelson said. Stewart was supposed to try the device only in practice, but chose to use it in the race as well. "I felt better than I probably had after any of the Martinsville races I remember," Stewart said. "I still did have a headache after the race was over, which is typical of a Martinsville race, but not nearly as severe as it was in the past." Stewart said he told Nelson he would like to try the device again in the fall race at Martinsville "to be certain it wasn't just a good day. But I'm somewhat encouraged the filter did its job." Nelson, who heads up NASCAR's new research and development facility in Concord, North Carolina, said the device that Stewart described as a filter "is a catalyst that sits on the floor in the car next to the driver. The system sends (clean) air to the driver's helmet." Nelson said the new system runs on "the same theory" as catalytic converters used in street cars to diminish pollutants in the exhaust, "but this is a low-temperature catalyst." NASCAR has been working since last fall on systems to filter the air a driver breathes during a race, a project that drew increased focus after Rick Mast announced in January he was retiring because years of exposure to toxic fumes had given him acute and chronic carbon monoxide poisoning.(more at Charlotte Observer)(4-23-2003)

  • Whats the latest on the carbon monoxide problem? Managing Director of Competition Gary Nelson said NASCAR is making steady progress on dealing with carbon monoxide. The deadly gas, which is colorless, odorless and found in exhaust fumes, has left many drivers who have been exposed feeling nauseous. NASCAR ratcheted up its approach to the problem when Lexington, Va., native Rick Mast was forced to retire after being diagnosed with chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. Random testing of volunteer drivers to measure pre- and postrace levels of carbon monoxide has yielded nothing alarming throughout the year's first four races, Nelson said. NASCAR crews and inspectors have been trained to be more vigilant in examining their cars for small cracks or improper seals that might allow carbon monoxide to seep into the cockpit. "We think we made the most progress talking to the crews and crew chiefs and training inspectors on what to look for," Nelson said. "If they notice anything, they bring it to the crews' attention. . . . We've made tremendous gains." Engineers at NASCAR's Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., also are working on a catalyst system to filter air inside the car. "The efficiency of the catalyst is dependent on the speed that the air flows through it," Nelson said. "If you have contaminated air and you run it through this catalyst too fast, the catalyst doesn't do the job. You run it through too slow, it doesn't do the job. We're trying to optimize that, and we're very encouraged that we're seeing results."(Richmond Times Dispatch)(3-16-2003)

  • Medical Concern at Daytona: The possible suspension of emergency services at two major Central Florida trauma centers due to the state's worsening medical liability crisis poses a serious threat to NASCAR drivers and fans, says a top official at the Daytona International Speedway. Lesa D. Kennedy, executive vice president of International Speedway Corp., said in a March 11 letter to Gov. Jeb Bush that she is concerned about the possible suspension of Level 1 trauma services at Orlando Regional Medical Center and Level 2 trauma services at Halifax Memorial Hospital in Daytona Beach.(Orlando Business Journal)(3-14-2003)

  • Gordon wants full-time rescue workers: Four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon wants NASCAR to hire full-time rescue workers for tracks. "I have some concerns because it's basically local (fire and rescue workers) that they kind of train once they get (to races)," Gordon said. "I think we should have a team that travels with us that know the cars, know the tracks, know the drivers. Have these local people assist them." CART and the Indy Racing League have teams of rescue workers who travel to each race and receive extensive training related to racing accidents and other safety issues. NASCAR relies on tracks to hire local fire and rescue workers. Three times in the past eight months, twice at Daytona and at Las Vegas, workers' response abilities have been questioned.(USA Today)(3-12-2003)

  • Concern about Fire Extinguishers: Fire is one of the most frightening things for a driver, so in-car extinguishers are standard, either 21/2 pounds or five pounds. But now there are questions being raised about the 1211 Halon aerosol being used in the NASCAR extinguishers. Halon has long been considered one of the safest chemicals for extinguishing fires. But the EPA has been trying to phase out Halon because of ozone issues, and new production isn't allowed. And there is some question about the ability of a driver to breathe inside the car if the concentration of Halon is at too high a level. There is enough Halon in a 21/2-pound bottle to flood the interior of a race car with 50 percent concentration, which some in the Winston Cup garage worry might be high enough to suffocate a driver, particularly if he's unable to crawl out of his car. Halon is usually required to be used only in unoccupied spaces, with warning alarms designed to give anyone in the area 30 seconds to get out before the Halon is released.(Winston Salem Journal)(2-23-2003)

  • NASCAR close to toxic-gas solution: Today's 45th Daytona 500 likely will be the last one ever run with a silent, invisible enemy of NASCAR drivers: carbon-monoxide poisoning. A solution is near for a problem as old as stock-car racing itself, in which toxic fumes from front-mounted engines can turn enclosed driver compartments into gas chambers, especially if exhaust systems are damaged in crashes. Now, NASCAR chief technical officer Gary Nelson thinks technology is about to eradicate carbon-monoxide exposure. Nelson is hoping to have a device approved and ready to recommend to drivers for use in the spring. He said the system acts like a catalytic converter, which reduces emissions from passenger cars, but operates at a lower temperature so as not to increase heat in the driver compartments. Application of the technology is the result of studies begun last fall both at racetracks and at NASCAR's new research and development facility near Charlotte. At least five drivers will be tested before and after today's Daytona 500, according to Nelson, though he wouldn't name them.(Orlando Seninel)(2-16-2003)

  • Roof Hatch UPDATE: NASCAR is developing a roof escape hatch similar to those on drag racing Funny Cars. Larger drivers like Michael Waltrip, Jimmy Spencer and Dale Jarrett worry about escaping through driver's-side window openings in a hurry. Research is ongoing at NASCAR's new R&D Center near Charlotte.(Daily Press)(1-24-2003)
    UPDATE: NASCAR is continuing work on the roof flaps, which keep cars from flying when they get turned around. A third roof flap has been proposed, along with a door flap. "And an alternate exit (through a 4-foot-square trap door), for big guys like Michael Waltrip," NASCAR's George Pyne said.(Winston Salem Journal)(1-27-2003)

  • NASCAR looking into the Carbon Monoxide problem: NASCAR is studying catalytic converters that can turn deadly carbon monoxide into relatively harmless carbon dioxide. NASCAR's R&D director, Gary Nelson, said that Rick Mast's illness and Tony Stewart's poisoning at Martinsville last fall triggered NASCAR to start a major investigation in to the carbon monoxide issue. In part of the NASCAR study, some drivers last fall gave doctors a balloon sample from their lungs after the race.(Winston Salem Journal)(1-26-2003)

  • Safety Issues; driver restraints, roof flaps, exit hatches, energy-absorbing barriers: NASCAR plans to study driver restraints, roof flaps on race cars, alternative exit hatches for drivers, side impact crashes and several other safety initiatives at the 61,000-square foot research and development complex it now occupies near the Concord airport in NC. Gary Nelson, managing director for competition, and Joe Garone, the director of the new facility, gave reporters a brief tour on Tuesday, showing off fabrication, engine development, engineering and machining capabilities NASCAR hopes to use in developing ways to make cars safer and help contain the costs of racing. NASCAR president Mike Helton said the sanctioning body is also continuing its research into energy-absorbing barriers for race track walls. Such barriers were installed in the outside of turns at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the inside of turns at Talladega Superspeedway last year. Helton said the barriers have not been added at any other tracks because Dr. Dean Sicking, the leader of the group doing the development at the University of Nebraska, still has concerns about its application on tighter-radius turns found at other tracks.(ThatsRacin.com)(1-22-2003)

  • IMPROVING SAFETY STEP-BY-STEP NASCAR officials provided the following list of 52 safety-related rule changes the organization has implemented since 1994:
    1. Researched, developed and mandated roof flaps.
    2. Increased thickness of the fuel cell.
    3. Mandated that fuel cell be of one-piece construction.
    4. Mandated thicker construction of upper and lower A-frame control arms.
    5. Mandated center windshield bar from "halo" bar to back of dash.
    6. Mandated vertical door bars between horizontal bars.
    7. Mandated side rails on Craftsman Trucks.
    8. Changed installation procedure of oil system
    . 9. Mandated location of oil system.
    10. Mandated maximum size of oil system.
    11. Eliminated quick-disconnect fittings for oil system.
    12. Eliminated quick-disconnect fittings for fuel lines.
    13. Eliminated quick-disconnect fittings for brake lines.
    14. Mandated auxiliary on/off switches on steering wheel.
    15. Mandated throttle stops on carburetors.
    16. Mandated wire suspension system for carburetor boosters.
    17. Increased size of drive shaft.
    18. Mandated minimum thickness of read axle housing.
    19. Mandated minimum lug nut thickness.
    20. Mandated date of manufacture be stamped in frames.
    21. Standardized location of shock absorbers.
    22. Mandated cable restraints on hoods.
    23. Mandated cable restraints on deck lids.
    24. Mandated cable restraints on spindles.
    25. Eliminated floating calipers in brakes.
    26. Mandated four-rail, steel-ball fuel check valve.
    27. Standardized construction of frames.
    28. Standardized and increased size of wheel hubs.
    29. Instituted random testing of wheels.
    30. Mandated minimum wheel weight.
    31. Mandated polycarbon windshields.
    32. Doubled retention standard of windshields.
    33. Mandated spoiler angles are selected tracks.
    34. Relocated centerline roof bar.
    35. Standardized and increased distances for certain roll bars.
    36. Added leg extension padding in seats.
    37. Mandated location of main on/off switch to middle of dash.
    38. Mandated 1/2-gallon radiator overflow.
    39. Talladega and Daytona shock and spring rules.
    40. Mandated 3/4-inch U-bolt on rear-end housing.
    41. Increased size and thickness of truck trailing arms.
    42. Mandated thickness of hood-pin posts.
    43. Mandated solid steel hood-pin posts.
    44. Changed and standardized where and how weight can be added to cars.
    45. Eliminated rear window tint.
    46. Mandated bracing inside rear window.
    47. Increased size of rear bumper support.
    48. Increased distance between frame and back of fuel cell.
    49. Raised height and standardized location of "halo" bar from frame.
    50. Increased the thickness in fuel cell carriage.
    51. Mandated fire-resistant shifter boots.
    52. Mandated quick-release latch on window net.
    (Atlanta Journal Constitution)(3-10-2001)


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