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Nascar - Lessons Learned About Safety

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NASCAR: Lessons Learned About Safety
By
Kai McLemore
Columbia Southern University
MOS 5101

Abstract
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) seems to always be a few steps behind when it comes to initiating safety practices. They wait until there is a reason in implementing a change. This paper covers the changes that has been mandated over the past decade and why these changes have occurred. Changes ere not just to the car but includes the whole NASCAR package. Changes were made to the car, the track, the driver’s gear, and pit road. Unfortunately, these changes were too late for some of NASCAR’s most legendary drivers, to include Dale Earnhardt. However, NASCAR officials have attempted to rectify their wrongs by ensuring the safety of the driver over the past 10 years. One can hope that they do not stop there and continue to look towards the future and they can continue to improve with the increase of changes to machine and man.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has been an exhilarating sport since the mid 1940s, and has thousands of spectators at each race cheering for their favorite driver. But then again, what other sport can be as exciting as watching an extremely super fast car that weighs approximately 3,400 pounds (Online NASCAR, 2010) bulleting around a track at speeds ranging close to 200 mph and merely inches from each other. Unfortunately, there are downsides to this sport which keeps every fan, spouse, and manager on pins and needles; the possibility of a serious injury or even death due to an accident. NASCAR has received a lot of grief over the past decade regarding the lack of a safety program and insufficient safety practices at all times. NASCAR has a proven record of not adopting new safety innovations until it is too late; usually resulting in the death of a driver. A great example of this was in the 1970’s when Smokey Yunick, a crew chief, proposed that more energy absorbing barriers be installed. NASCAR officials said the cost was too high and unnecessary (Neff, 2011). Had the safety officials taken Smokey’s idea seriously, and implemented his safety idea, several drivers, to include legends like Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, and Dale Earnhardt, might very well still be alive today. After Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death in 2001, NASCAR took a hard hit and was heavily criticized for not mandating safety features until their backs were pressed against the wall. It was then that NASCAR officials took a step back, spent millions building a research and development center which is devoted to initiatives with a focus on safety first (Aumann, 2011). They brought in engineers, drivers, crew members, and medical personnel who analyzed the safety features of the entire car, personnel protective equipment (PPE) for the driver and pit crew members. They eventually extended research to the track, building safer barrier walls, and pit road, mandating stringent regulations for all crew members.
Anatomy of a NASCAR Car Due to several NASCAR drivers’ deaths in 2001, NASCAR officials began researching for a new, safer car. The research, testing, and back to the drawing board took NASCAR right around 7 years before they were ready to roll out the new design. This new designed car was called the “Car of Tomorrow” (George, 2008) and was basically totally redesigned from front to back and side to side. The best place to start is by discussing the features of the outside and work our way to the inside.
Car of Tomorrow The very simple stuff to us is some of the most important issues to a driver. But let’s get more into the car itself, like what exactly are roof flaps, fuel cells, restrictor plates, roll cages and seats, along with why each area of concern became a huge safety issue and what NASCAR officials did to improve the safety for the driver.
Roof flaps. Roof flaps were not introduced to the NASCAR world until 1994 when Rusty Wallace experienced a horrific crash which sent him flying through the air and rotating him head over end down the race track (Caraviello, 2007). Even though Penske Racing actually designed the roof top, Jack Roush and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University assisted with the improvement of the design. The roof flaps are recessed into snug fit pockets. When the car reaches lift capacity, the low pressure above the flaps are engaged causing the flaps to deploy, thus causing a downward drag and eliminating further lift of the car with hopes of it remaining on the track.
Flaps on NASCAR Sprint Cup car (Google Images, 2011)
Flaps on NASCAR Sprint Cup car (Google Images, 2011) Restrictor plates and fuel cells. A restrictor plate is an aluminum plate with four holes and is placed between the carburetor and the intake manifold. The main purpose of the restrictor plate, (see figure below) is to reduce the air and fuel flow with an ultimate end result of reducing horsepower and speed (Bosnor and Nice, 2001). This square piece of engine add-on is only used on short tracks where cars can exceed speeds of 200 mph. The restrictor plate was introduced to drivers and implemented as mandatory use after a horrific, 1988 crash. Unfortunately, the drivers have found a way around the reduction of speed by “drafting”, which will be discussed later on along with how this alone has become a huge safety issue.

Restrictor Plate – normal airflow through carburetor and when air hits restrictor plate, air is diffused between the four holes, which reduces horsepower and ultimately slowing down the maximum speed. (Google Images, 2011)
Restrictor Plate – normal airflow through carburetor and when air hits restrictor plate, air is diffused between the four holes, which reduces horsepower and ultimately slowing down the maximum speed. (Google Images, 2011)

Fuel cells have been an issue since the first NASCAR race; however, over time and due to cars catching fire, exploding, and causing severe damage to the driver, NASCAR engineers have found a way to improve their safety. In today’s fuel cells, safety features have been built in and the chance of rupture or explosion is practically impossible. The fuel cells are made of layers: the outer steal outer with a hard plastic (or rubber) inner layer (Aumann, 2011). The NASCAR engineers then placed the fuel cell towards the back of the car and then applied braces on all four sides, which supports the cell from movement. The fuel cell area is then filled with foam. This foam will absorb any sloshed fuel and should there be an explosion, the air in the cell will be extinguished. As another safety precaution, engineers installed check values that shut off should the car and engine become separated.
Roll cage, seat, and seatbelts. Prior to the current roll cage, most cars had little protection except for those made within their own garage. NASCAR officials decided that there must be a better way to protect the driver. NASCAR engineers were given instructions that the main reason for the roll cage is to protect the driver during an accident. This task was not an easy one but they were not going to disappoint the officials or the drivers. The roll cage is also known as the frame of the car. This area of the car is actually the strongest part, made from the thickest round and square tubing. The front and back of the roll cage is installed by clips (Nice, 2001). These clips are designed to “crush” upon impact, causing less g-force upon the driver. The engine is also designed to quickly disconnect from the roll cage should the wreck be severe. This will prevent the engine being shoved into the driver. Picture of the frame of a NASCAR car, also known as the roll cage (Google Images, 2011)
Picture of the frame of a NASCAR car, also known as the roll cage (Google Images, 2011) Seats and seatbelts have totally evolved over the past decade. Several deaths were caused when drivers were still strapped into the seat; however, the seat itself was ejected from the car. This caused yet another meeting of NASCAR officials and the creation of another safety feature rule. NASCAR officials declared that all seats were to be attached to the roll cage (Bosnor and Nice, 2001) and moved 4 inches closer to the center of the car, moving it further away from the impact zone. Each seat is molded out of carbon fiber instead of the traditional aluminum seats. The seat is molded specifically for the driver, which wraps around their rib cage and shoulders for added protection by providing more support, spreading the load out over the entire rib cage instead of being concentrated in one small area.
Picture of the seat and seatbelts (Google Images, 2011)
Picture of the seat and seatbelts (Google Images, 2011)

Seatbelts and the type of seatbelts used to be an option for a driver. NASCAR officials again mandated that each car must be equipped with either a five- or six-point harness system and made from a extremely thick padded nylon webbing that is stronger than the average seatbelts in every day cars (Bosnor and Nice, 2001). This was driven by the death of Petty, Irwin, Roper, and Earnhardt all receiving the same type of injuries. NASCAR officials did not stop there, they also mandated the usage of the Head and Neck Support (HANS) device.
Head and Neck Support (HANS) device The Hand and Neck Support (HANS) device was designed in the early 1980s by Dr. Robert Hubbard, after he lost a good friend who was a road-racer. The purpose of the HANS device is to eliminate such fatalities. The design is so simple that Hubbard built the first prototype on his kitchen table (St. John, 2009). The concept is to keep the head in a position relative to the body and from continuing in a forward motion after impact and keeping the neck from snapping in half and killing the driver instantly. (Google Images, 2011)
The HANS device was available to NASCAR drivers in 1991 for purchase; however many of the drivers opted to not wear it saying “it was too cumbersome and uncomfortable”. Even legendary Dale Earnhardt called the HANS device “a damn noose”, “he would rather be hung by the tethers than save him in a crash” (Hinton, 2002). Unfortunately, February 2001, Earnhardt Sr died from basilar skull fractures. Had he had the HANS device on, he would more than likely have lived through the wreck. He was the fourth in a 14-month span to die from basilar skull fractures. Unfortunately, NASCAR officials waited until then to mandate the usage of the HANS device for all drivers. Since then, not one driver has perished.
Track and Pit Road
Track. Again, after Earnhardt’s death, NASCAR began implementing yet another change. This time, the 12 different track owners found themselves in the spotlight. Each track protection wall was originally designed to protect the fans, not the drivers. The track wall was to be retrofitted with Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers which can absorb 30 to 50 percent of the impact energy (St. John, 2009), at the cost of the track owner. The SAFER barriers are custom fit for each track and cost several millions of dollars (Pockrass, 2011) from creation to installation. The last track to have SAFER barriers installed was in 2010.
Driver Jeff Gordon was in a horrific crash in 2006 that sent him shooting into the SAFER barrier at a high-rate of speed. Gordon said “That was one of the hardest hits I have ever taken. Between the soft wall and the seat and the safety device, I never got knocked out and I was quite surprised that I feel pretty good” (Smithson, 2006). You can see in the figure below how the SAFER barrier is designed.

SAFER Barrier: {a} The outer layer (closest to the track) is made of hollow steel elements, which are strong yet flexible enough to absorb energy during an impact. {b} The middle layer is dense foam, which absorbs energy by compressing. {c} The layer nearest the spectators is made of concrete. No need to change what already works. (Illustration by Transluszent)

SAFER Barrier: {a} The outer layer (closest to the track) is made of hollow steel elements, which are strong yet flexible enough to absorb energy during an impact. {b} The middle layer is dense foam, which absorbs energy by compressing. {c} The layer nearest the spectators is made of concrete. No need to change what already works. (Illustration by Transluszent)

Another person who works the track and is extremely important to the driver in a safety aspect is the spotter, who normally is a former driver or crew chief. Due to the fact that NASCAR does not allow the cars to have wing mirrors mounted on the outside of the vehicle, which causes serious blind spots, spotters for each driver are placed on the roof of the press box or the highest part of the grandstands where they have full visual of the track (minus road tracks, where more than one spotter must be used). The spotter is the eyes for the driver and relays information about other cars that are located around their driver via a two-way radio. They are also able to assist the driver when there has been a wreck and dodging disabled cars. NASCAR requires that spotters be present whenever there is a car on the track.
Pit road. Prior to 1990, pit road safety was non-existent and members were allowed to perform in any manner they chose. That soon came to a stop when a pit member was killed during a pit road crash. Once again, NASCAR officials found themselves having to answer as to why there were no rules or guidelines for this area. The first implementation was pit road speed limit, which is determined by the size of the track and size of pit road. This ensures that all drivers maintain a safe speed at all times while on pit road.
However, what about those that worked in pit road, why were they not mandated to wear safety gear? Those NASCAR mandated rules did not come around until 2002. At that time, all pit crew members were required to wear helmets, full fire retardant suits, and gloves. The gas man must also wear a fire apron. Then in 2008, NASCAR mandated more regulations. Members of the crew could only push the car a certain distance, preventing the possibility of a crash with another car.
Conclusion
NASCAR has done a spectacular job on ensuring the safety of the driver over the past 10 years by the mandating of the HANS device and improvement on the car itself; however, research shows that NASCAR officials only implement a new safety regulation when there has been a tragic accident. Another thought that was running through my head and kept disturbing me was the fact that the NASCAR organization itself does not have a safety manager or safety program. The safety program is left up to each driver and their team. I agree that each team should be held accountable for their safety program and having a “teamwork approach to promoting safety”; however, this approach could be quite dangerous, if not deadly. NASCAR should have a mandatory safety program and then each driving team should have a designated safety manager/representative. This would allow for voicing of opinions for safety instead of a driver getting hurt and having to voice his concern to the media. It is definitely an organization that puts “responsibilities on team members” and having each member “fulfilling their individual responsibilities to the team and to each other” (Goetsch, 2005).
The thrill of driving at an extremely high rate of speed has not changed since the mid-40s. The spectators’ love for the thrill has only increased over time as well. Unfortunately, through time, cars have become faster and more technologically advanced along with the driver being forced to be more skilled. In the recent past, NASCAR officials only seem to respond to safety issues when there is a tragic loss of a driver, crew member, or even a fan sitting in the stands. However, on a positive note, NASCAR has mandated many life-saving regulations. The design of the “car of tomorrow” being one of the most important ones. The car was modified and redesigned to ensure the safety of the driver by adding restrictor plates on tracks that are typically shorter with higher banks and the driver can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph. Engineers spent long, grueling hours over the seat and roll cage thus ensuring maximum protection of the driver. NASCAR officials did not stop there; they implemented that tracks have SAFER barriers installed, which provided a more energy absorbent impact wall, protecting the driver during those head on collisions. Spotters are also vital to the driver by being the driver’s eyes during situations that become risky, such as avoiding a collision with another driver located in the car’s blind spot or calling out debris that is located out on the track after a collision. NASCAR officials then moved to pit road and looked at consistent or voiced safety issues/concerns. Here the implementation of fire retardant gear, gloves, and helmets became mandatory for all members of pit road. NASCAR has finally realized that safety is of importance and has become stricter upon every member of the car’s team. Surely, with time and changes of car models, NASCAR will once again find itself having to implement new rules and regulations when it is necessary to enhance safety.

References
Bonsor, Kevin, and Karim Nice. "How NASCAR Safety Works" 23 February 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/nascar/nascar-basics/nascar-safety.html Retrieved on 26 September 2011.
Caraviello, David. “Catching Air at Talladaga Not For the Faint of Heart”. 26 April 2007. www.nascar.com/2007/news/headlines/cup/04/26/talladaga.crashes/index
George, Patrick E.. "How NASCAR\u0027s Car of Tomorrow Works" 05 December 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/nascar/nascar-basics/nascar-car-of-tomorrow.html Retrieved on 26 September 2011.
Goetsch, David (2005). “Occupational Safety & Health For Technologists, Engineers, & Managers”. Pearson Custom Publishing. P465-466. ISBN 0-536-85046-1
Hinton, Ed (2002). “Daytona: From the Birth of Speed to the Death of the Man in Black” http://books.google.ca/books?id=Iqw50fVrV_sC&printsec=frontcover&dq=daytona. Warner Books. P. 426. ISBN 0446611786. Retrieved on 21 September 2011.
Neff, Mike. “Safety is Priority No. 1” 05 May 2011. www.athlonsports.com/columns/garage- talk/safety-priority-no-1 Retrieved on 26 September 2011.
Nice, Karim. "How NASCAR Race Cars Work" 21 March 2001. HowStuffWorks.com. http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/nascar/nascar-basics/nascar.html Retrieved on 26 September 2011.
Pockrass, Bob. “Rockingham Putting in SAFER Barriers” 19 August 2011 http://www.scenedaily.com/news/articles/truckseries/Rockingham_putting_in_SAFER_barriers.html Retrieved on 27 September 2011
Smithson, Ryan. “Gordon Thankful For Safety Devices After Hit”. 12 June 2006. www.nascar.com/2006/news/headlines/cup/06/11/jgordon.pocono/index.html Retrieved on 15 September 2011.
St. John, Allen. “Anatomy of a NASCAR Crash”. 01 October 2009 http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/vintage-speed/4249470 Retrieved on 20 September 2011…...

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...A Hard Lesson Learned ********** ENG 125 *** 04/01/2014 A Hard Lesson Learned Upon reading The Necklace written in 1884 by Guy de Maupassant, you certainly encounter surprise and anguish. This short story, The Necklace, is one that causes the reader to shake their head and embrace honesty over pride. Mme. Mathilde Loisel is a lovely woman that, forced by fate, “The idea that what people did and what happened to them were determined by natural forces external to themselves” (Corrie, 2013), to learn a hard life lesson in modesty. The narrator uses the setting of 19th century Paris, France, as an underlying way to narrow the idea of beauty and elegance. It is the need of obtaining this elegant lifestyle that causes the Loisels to meet with their dooming debt. The plot is essential in the world of fiction. It is a sequence of interrelated, conflicting action and events that typically build to a climax and bring about a resolution. Mme. Loisel's night of wonder ends when she returns home with her husband. “She took off the wraps with which she had covered her shoulders, before the mirror, so as to see herself once more in her glory.” Here we see the vanity in her character. “But suddenly she gave a cry. She no longer had the necklace around her throat!” Now our plot is unveiled. The climactic moment that will change the next ten years of her life, and her husband's too. “She turned to him, terror–stricken:—"I—I—I have not Mme. Forester's diamond necklace!” He......

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