brand-new tracks, of which happily
there seem to be a lot these days,
often still use antiquated barriers that
can really hurt drivers and cars. Let’s
work to improve this.
Back in the late 1960s, Formula
One champ Jackie Stewart was the
leader of a movement to improve
safety for drivers. These days, R. J. is
the only one I have heard stepping up
to ask for the next level: better
barriers. And because they didn’t
exist, he created them.
The SAFER barrier used at NASCAR
events is a good step forward at
speedways, just isn’t feasible for most
situations, and only adds a foot or two
of absorption anyway. We are talking
about a freestanding, connected wall
of softer, lighter barriers that will move
with you, spreading out the impact
shock. Racer Spencer Pumpelly wrote
about “rogue cars,” and I’ve been in
them a few times, that completely lose
brakes or stick 500hp throttles. In this
situation, cars skim over gravel traps
like they are not there. Wall contact
speeds are tremendous.
Alvaro Parente’s recent crash at St.
Petersburg in the K-PAX Bentley is an
excellent example. Street courses are
tough but, in fact, many of our classic
road courses still have similar situations.
Interestingly, freestanding tire walls
were used there, but offset, perhaps
to facilitate a lane for emergency
equipment? Shooting straight down
the short runoff, he hit tires that were
stacked against the concrete Jersey
barriers surrounding the circuit, and
flew straight up into the air. He was able
to disembark on his own, but staggered
to sit aside, clearly suffering.
With driver gear like the HANS, we
keep treating the symptoms and not
addressing the disease. Better
helmets, seats, head restraints, and
the like help, of course, but the real
issue is that g-force spike when the
irresistible force meets the immovable
object. And this will take money.
How much? Most tracks could be
greatly improved for the cost of just
one modern racecar or supercar.
Ironically, I see them get destroyed
regularly. The bonus of the absorption
buffer is that it greatly reduces car
injuries, just as it lessens damage to
humans. Maybe this is an even better
motivator? In my own crashes, I worry
far more about the car than myself.
Yes, I just figure I’m OK, but hope
against hope that the car can be
fixed, and soon.
like The Thermal
I read recently about a circle track
upgrading its walls, and it pissed me
off. Two hundred thousand for new
guardrail, concrete, and a 17-foot-high
catch fence with cables, a response to
two open-wheeled sprint cars clearing
the old fence and landing in the
paddock. Not a word about softening
the blow for the drivers, only about
containing the cars. Felt like they
considered drivers expendable.
Drivers, it’s up to you – it’s up to us .
Don’t be scared, like me. Notice bare
concrete, and ask for a buffer. Ask for
a freestanding wall of connected
barriers across that gravel trap. Two,
would be even better. Gravel does not
slow “rogue cars,” the ones that need
it the most. Speak up, drop remarks,
and be willing to maybe pay a little
extra for a while to help upgrade to
modern impact-mitigating catch walls.
Or, go out to the garage, car lover,
gaze upon that beautiful machine, the
one you are racing next weekend, and
consider the time and money
invested; the heart and soul. Think of
far less damage if that Danger Ranger
in your group manages to punt you
off track, as he almost has already,
more than once. Don’t do it just for
yourself, do it for your racecar.