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Improving the Safety of Catchfences in NASCAR

Race cars flying into catchfences is not as rare as people may think. We’ve seen Geoff Bodine, Carl Edwards, Dennis Setzer, Joey Coulter, Richard Petty, Russell Phillips, Bobby Allison, Kyle Larson and many others test the strength of NASCAR’s chain-link fencing system. Fans have been injured during these crashes before but not much has been done to the fence itself besides making it taller and a little bit stronger. The horrific Kyle Larson crash that injured 28 fans took it to a whole new level though. Two major things happened during those couple seconds of chaos. First of all, the front of his car ripped through the fence after being cut away from the body throwing the engine block and a hundreds of  pieces of debris towards the fans. Secondly, the left front wheel with part of the suspension still connected to it when barreling over the catchfence and into the grandstands. I’m going to look at this wreck from multiple angles and give my personal opinion on what can be done to prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again.

 

The Hole in the Catchfence

Feb 23, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Kyle Larson (32) goes up into the fence after being involved in a crash on the final lap during the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The first issue I want to tackle is that of the car ripping a massive hole in the fence. Looking at the replay, Larson got airborne when Brian Scott nailed him in the right rear sending him tumbling through the air and into a pole where the crossover gate was which was enough force to rip the  front end and the engine block from the car before Larson was tossed back onto the track. It is a miracle that the engine block stayed at the base of the fence and went no further because that could of done some very serious damage. If you look at the picture directly above, you can see Kyle hitting the fence post which is the main reason the front of his car tore away from the body. I don’t think the crossover gate was at fault in any way though. If it did play a role, it was a small one. It was simply the force of hitting that post head-on and stopping that car dead in it’s tracks that allowed it to act like a cutting tool in tearing the car practically in half.

In most incidents where cars hit the catchfence, they are thrown back onto the track or at most ride along the fence for a few seconds. That pole prevented Kyle Larson’s car from doing that on impact due to the way he struck it. There has to be something done about the poles in these fences. If you think back to the 2011 Indycar season finale, the impact that killed 2x Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was a fence post in turn 2 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway although that was an entirely different incident than the one we witnessed last Saturday. I’m no engineer so I can’t tell you how we can manipulate the fences to prevent the posts from being an issue in the future. All I can say is that something needs to be done about it before our luck runs out. You’re playing with fire here and if you play with it long enough, you’re going to get burned.

 

Debris Flying Into the Stands

Feb 23, 2013; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Kyle Larson (32) goes up into the fence after being involved in a crash on the final lap during the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

The second issue is the wheel and suspension parts that went flying over the catchfence. A millisecond before Larson’s Chevy Camaro slammed the fence with tremendous force, the left front wheel rips away from the car and at no point during the wreck did that wheel touch the catchfence. I found that very interesting…it looks like the wheel broke from the car when it hit the top of the safer barrier, NOT the fence. You can see that the left front will not clear the safer barrier from this picture of Larson seconds after the impact with Brian Scott. The debris barely cleared the fence from the views I’ve looked at. It made it over by a foot or two if not inches. I propose a very simply fix to this issue. There is no need to make 50ft tall fences or anything like that; just curve the top of the fences over the track by another few feet. It doesn’t impede the view of the fans in any way and will catch any debris that wants to go into the grandstands. Tethering those suspension parts to the middle section of the car could help too. If you remember the crash, the hood was the only piece of the front end that stayed with the car due to the fact that it was tethered down.

If the tracks feel like reaching deep into their pockets, they could replace all the catchfences with some kind of military grade netting that allows the fans to keep the view they pay so much money for but at the same time make it virtually impossible for anything to pierce through it. Although, this idea isn’t a very economically good one for the track owners so I doubt it will ever happen. When I look at the Larson crash, punching a hole through the fence is a freak accident but that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to it and shrug it off like it will never happen again. If it happened once, it will happen again and we may not be so lucky next time. I really hope that ISC which owns both Superspeedway tracks on the NASCAR schedule decide to take action like so many other tracks have done in the past when a dangerous, possibly life threatening situation was brought to their attention. One track that has been cursed by vicious wrecks recently but has immediately jumped to fix the problem is Watkins Glen which is owned by ISC. When NASCAR lost John Nemechek, Tony Roper, Adam Petty & Kenn Irwin Jr within 2 years of each other, they did nothing about it. Then we lost Dale Earnhardt…so please ISC, I urge you to fix this problem before a fan or a driver loses their life because you decided to take this easy route instead of the safe one.

Topics: Catchfence, Daytona, Kyle Larson, NASCAR, Nationwide Series, Sprint Cup Series

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  • Nick DeGroot

    Upon further review, it seems that the wheel that most believed went over the fence may have gone through the hole created by the #32 car in the catchfence. Even if that’s the case, curving the fence over the track more is still a great idea to catch debris and so is tethering some suspension pieces to the middle section of these cars a lot like the hood already is.

    • Bryant Douglass

      The car also hit where the fence opens up too which had to be a factor.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ToryAnarchist Michael Byers

    I was sure the wheel went over the fence too. When you look at the replay at regular speed it really does appear to go over the fence, but if you slow it down to around 1/3 speed it looks more like it got through the hole punched in the catch fence. In either case, it seems like the odds against such an occurrence are pretty long (and the laws of physics would seem to be against the ‘over the fence’ scenario due to where the car was when the wheel got loose). From NASCAR and the track owner’s perspective the question of over or through is a pretty important one both for safety improvement efforts and liability questions.

    • Nick DeGroot

      This video really seems to show it go through the hole & the car just rip through the fencing…crazy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5qbCgZ_iWs&feature=youtu.be

    • Bryant Douglass

      Yeah that bad boy tore through the fence when the car slammed into the fence. That video definitely shows what happened.