We can learn a lot from history,...
We can learn a lot from history, or we can let it repeat itself. Here we will take a look at stock car safety, from a past perspective, the present and into the future.
There is no such thing as a safe racecar. Racecars are designed to go as fast as possible within the limits of the applicable sanctioning rules and the laws of nature. There will certainly be safety problems that come with that whole scenario. What we can do is try to make our cars as safe as possible and hope for the best. We can always have a safe-er racecar.
Some of the material presented here you might have seen before, but as in many aspects of racing technology, we need to be reminded often about areas of special concern, and safety is a very special area. We will concern ourselves with the higher priority items, ones that can be fatal.
While there have always been fatal accidents in racing, there are certain periods that stand out. The '80s in Northeast modified racing saw quite a few fatalities until someone caught on that the framerails were way too stiff. Although I don't know the exact cause of death in each instance, one can assume that Basal Skull fracture was associated with many of those because of the many head-on impacts involved.
This stock clip front end...
This stock clip front end has a lot of bends and angles designed into it. This is not by accident (excuse the pun). Manufacturers have long been aware of the importance of crush zones and energy absorbing that is needed to be designed into a car to help the occupants survive hard crashes.
The years 1999 through 2001 saw numerous driver fatalities from impacts with concrete walls. Of course, the most well known involved Dale, Sr. That one event caused the ground to shake in every racing community, stock car especially. I do believe Dale's tragic end was a catalyst that might well have saved many lives since. Many sanctions and tracks now require head and neck restraints and some tracks now have soft walls installed.
Looking at the possible causes of the problem, there was a reason why all of a sudden, drivers were not able to withstand the force of impact for each of these periods. Something changed along the way that caused the impacts to affect the driver more severely.
In the time since 2001, we might have suffered more deaths in stock car racing, as well as other forms of automobile racing, had events not unfolded like they did. Everyone inside and outside the sport of auto racing had come to realize that something needed to be done to make this sport safer for the drivers. And they did.
The rear frame member on a...
The rear frame member on a stock passenger car is curved like the front. Rear end impacts are cushioned and the deformation of the frame lessens the g-forces transferred to the occupants.
Before 2001, talk centered on soft walls. Most of the talk about making stock car racing safer had been centered on designing a soft wall technology and virtually no one was mentioning the construction of the cars as a possible cause-until February 20, 2001, two days after Dale's crash. That day a story was published in the Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal paper by Godwin Kelly, the paper's motorsports editor, that shed light on the root of the problem.
In that article, experts pointed out that it was possible that the cars had become too stiff whereby the forces from near instant deceleration were transferred excessively to the driver. The weak point is the base of the skull and that is the only part of the body that holds the head from moving forward. In sudden deceleration, the tendons and muscles are not strong enough to counter those huge forces and they break. When they do, massive damage is done to the spine and base of the brain causing death.
As a result of that period, racers have come to understand the risk they take in all forms of racing by not protecting the head from sudden forward motion. And so the Head and Neck restraint was developed by several companies to assist in controlling the violent forward motion of the head in a crash.