Racing is a dangerous sport . . . no kidding, right? But over the past decade or so it seems that advancements in safety equipment have made leaps and bounds. And these advancements have benefited one arena of oval track racing particularly well-Sprint Cars.

The power-to-weight ratio coupled with a high center of gravity make the Sprint Car a candidate for spectacular events when things go wrong. Their violent flips and tumbles consistently make sports highlight reels around the country. We have even heard local Dirt Late Model drivers espouse the fact that if they ever got into a Sprint Car they'd surely wear a head-and-neck restraint, even though they don't wear one in their own cars. To be truly safe in one of these cars takes diligence and a philosophy that safety begins not with a single component but a comprehensive cockpit safety system.

Everything in the cockpit must work in concert to protect the driver and not surprisingly, it begins with that car's foundation, the chassis. The goal is to combine predictable performance and driver safety into a complicated maze of aircraft-grade chrome-moly tubing, suspension, and drivetrain mounting points, a daunting challenge to say the least.

Doug Shaw has been building championship-winning Sprint Cars and open wheel racers for more than 30 years. His cars, like many other chassis builders', have been built around a standard design that goes back at least 40 years. As decades passed, new tweaks and changes to the design have made this "old school" race car platform perform even better. But Shaw upped the ante with his 2010 chassis by focusing on the ideology that all of the components of a cockpit safety system have to work together as one to be effective. Recently, he invited us along to take a look.

Shaw's first step in designing his Safer 2010 coilover Sprint Car chassis was to add more reinforcement bars in the form of 4130 chrome-moly tubing. He focused his improvements to the chassis' design on the seat frame and lap belt anchor area. New additions to the A-frame lateral bar reinforcement sets this design apart from conventional ones and, according to Shaw, these upgrades made a great difference in overall stability and safety for the driver without compromising performance and adjustability of the suspension.

He also added a lateral mid bar to the A-frame to reinforce the chassis against the torsional twisting forces when the car is under power. While the A-frame is a common part in all Sprint Car chassis and is the main rear support for the seat and structural rear cockpit uprights, Shaw's mid bar is a new addition.

Based on previous experience, Shaw felt that this was an area that could use additional support in the event of an accident. To complement improvements in this area, inner seat rails were added to the lower seat frame. Newly designed lap belt anchors were welded to these rails. These changes form the foundation for a more comprehensive Sprint Car chassis cockpit safety system.

The Seat
With the foundation design completed, attention could be turned to the seat. Weight of the seat has always been an issue with Sprint Car racers and previously, many lightweight Sprint Car racing seats were mass produced with little or no custom design, strength, or performance requirements. Full containment seats were naturally a great option but raised several questions from racers around the country including limited visibility out the right side of the race car, driver extrication in the event the car is upside down or against the wall, and their compatibility with head-and-neck restraints.

These potentially serious conditions led many track safety crews to lobby safety officials and equipment manufacturers to produce removable racing seats to make it easier to extricate the driver in the event of a serious injury. While conceptually interesting, removable seats are contrary to the design goals of a racing seat. In order for the seat to do its job, it must be securely mounted in the vehicle. Many believe that installing quick disconnect pins or mounts that can be easily accessed by the track safety crew is unrealistic due to the impact loads on the mechanism, the chassis, rollcage, seat, and driver compartment in a serious wreck. In addition, the driver still needs to be separated from the damaged seat for proper immobilization on a backboard and stretcher once he or she is removed from the vehicle-a difficult task sometimes even for experienced rescuers.

So what to do?

Enter Keith Grant and RSI Safety. "While working with ButlerBuilt, I developed a tool called the ZipFlex Wire Rescue Saw," explains Grant. The ZipFlex Wire Rescue Saw was designed to quickly remove the impact foam in the seat head surrounds to allow faster access to the driver by the track safety crew, in this instance without the initial need of powered rescue tools."