"Part of the reason I think it will catch on is because it just makes using other safety components easier. Putting the Hans or the Hutchens device on while in the driver's seat is pretty standard, and it takes a few minutes to get it all worked out. Some of the guys put on the Hans before they get into the car, and that makes it even more difficult to wiggle in and out of the window. I think you will soon start seeing guys putting on their Hans or Hutchens device, stepping on the top of the doorsill, and then jumping through the top of the car pretty regularly."

The best news is that NASCAR has no intention of profiting from its design or limiting its use to a specific brand of racing. Any racer who wishes to use the hatch design in his car is welcome to do so. In fact, once the hatch has proven itself in Cup and Busch competition, Nelson expects to see it start popping up all over the place.

"I think the hatch will catch on with Saturday night racers somewhere on down the road," he says. "The window of a Late Model Stock car can be hard to get into and out of just like a NASCAR Winston Cup car. I've got a feeling five years from now it will be pretty common."

Breathe Fresh Air Another initiative the R&D Center has taken on and turned over to the racing community is its Fresh Air Study/Catalyst. When Rick Mast had to step away from racing because of the cumulative effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, it only highlighted the need for further study into the problem.

"We started a study on carbon monoxide at the very end of last year," Nelson says. "We tested different drivers' level of exposure to carbon monoxide before and after races to get a better idea of what was going on. And we started finding that the levels normally weren't that high, but occasionally a driver would show signs of higher exposure. It wasn't happening at particular tracks, and it wasn't happening to everybody. It appeared random until we realized the most common thing is it happens at the tracks where you are most likely to have damage to your car. And that damage to the car can allow fumes to leak in.

"So the first thing we did was instruct our care center people on how to diagnose carbon monoxide exposure and what might be something else. We helped them to better diagnose whether it's a guy feeling sick, or heat exhaustion, or whether it's exposure. All those symptoms are very close to the same, but they originate from very different conditions.

"Next we went to our crewchiefs and said, 'Hey, make sure you seal these cars up really tight for the short tracks and road courses. And if there is damage during a race, come in and fix it and your driver will be better off. If everything is sealed up tight, the drivers aren't having a problem.'

"Finally we started looking for ways to help a driver if he isn't feeling up to 100 percent, or if you are at a track where you are likely to damage something and develop a leak. We wanted to help the teams find a system that removes carbon monoxide from the air the driver is breathing."

Nelson said his group began by testing fresh air systems currently on the market. Unfortunately, while many were effective at filtering particles from the air, none did much for removing carbon monoxide. Because it is a gas, carbon monoxide cannot be blocked by fiber or charcoal filters. As a result, Nelson and his crew developed their own system, called the Catalyst.

"It is a special bead system," he explains. "The unit forces the air across those beads, and they convert the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. We started out with a system that was about 60 percent effective, and we turned the design over to the drivers, and currently the industry has improved on the design to where some are around 90 percent effective."

While these carbon monoxide scrubbers are still rare on the racing market, they should become more plentiful and affordable to the average racer.