Dr. Dean Sicking, whose SAFER barrier has saved the lives of numerous drivers, says tracks are facing a stiff challenge to cover all their walls with the protective barrier before the end of the season.
Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, said hours after Kyle Busch’s crash into a concrete wall that the SAFER barrier would be “on every inch of this property.
“We’re going to get this fixed and be sure we’re ready for the next event here.’’
NASCAR returns to Daytona for the July 5 race (which marks the debut of NBC’s 2015 Sprint Cup schedule).
Sicking applauds Chitwood’s determination but said complications could slow the project, noting guardrails on the inside of all four turns.
“If they’re going to take (the guardrails) out, there’s a question whether they can get it done by July,’’ Sicking told NASCAR Talk.
Sicking knows those guardrails at Daytona well. He had track officials improve them several years ago.
Sicking developed the steel-and-foam energy barrier when he was at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska. Since the barriers have been installed – beginning in 2002 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – there has not been a fatality in NASCAR’s top three national series.
“Every time someone brings that up, it just brings a smile to my face,’’ he said.
In addition to Daytona, virtually every track in NASCAR’s premier series has indicated in the past two days that it would review the need for full implementation of SAFER barriers in the wake of Busch’s crash in Saturday’s Xfinity Series season opener. Busch suffered a compound fracture in his lower right leg after his No. 54 Toyota hit a concrete wall on the inside of Turn 1 at Daytona.
Sicking noted that there are various challenges with placing SAFER barriers around any track.
Some tracks have walls that open, allowing traffic to cross to the infield. Also the curvature of inside walls – Sicking noted those at Kentucky Speedway and Martinsville Speedway – present challenges because of their tight angles.
Such complications, along with getting supplies and having a crew install the barriers, leads Sicking to say: “You’d be working hard to get (SAFER barriers around a track) by November’’ if a decision was made soon to do so.
Sicking no longer consults NASCAR on track safety. The mechanical engineer is at the University of Alabama-Birmingham focusing on football helmets and reducing the likelihood of concussions.
Still, Sicking says the idea of lining tracks with SAFER barriers is one he approves.
“In terms of the barrier’s performance, I can’t imagine a situation where putting a barrier up would be a bad thing,’’ he said.
International Speedway Corp., which owns a majority of the tracks the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, including Daytona, stated Tuesday that it is “developing a significant plan for the installation of additional impact-absorbing technologies, including, but not limited to SAFER barriers.’’
Sicking noted that there could be options beyond a SAFER barrier in some cases.
“There are situations where the SAFER barrier is not the best alternative,’’ he said. “If you hit the wall at 90 degrees at 160 miles an hour, it might be better to have tires.
“When you go straight into the wall … then the tire barrier gives you more space to absorb some of the energy and spread it out over a longer period of time and reduce the risk to the driver.’’
Sicking said that hitting the tires at angle, though, can cause additional problems.
“If you have an oblique hit … then tire barriers would snag you and stop you faster and be more dangerous than a SAFER barrier,’’ he told NASCAR Talk.
Daytona International Speedway placed tire barriers along the inside wall in Turn 1 for the Daytona 500 the day after Busch’s wreck, which also resulted in a fractured left foot. Atlanta Motor Speedway, which hosts all three of NASCAR’s national series this weekend, will add tire barriers along the inside wall in Turn 4.
Even with the SAFER barrier’s success, Sicking said there’s still more to learn.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think we know how good it is yet,’’ he said. “You define quality based on failure. It has yet to fail. Nobody has died yet, so I don’t think we know how good it is. It is far better than I thought it was when we put it up. We took a lot of hits that I thought would have been fatal and drivers walked away with very minor injuries.’’