Close your eyes and imagine. You are behind the wheel of a car, traveling well over 100mph, straight into a concrete wall.
That’s exactly what happened to Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick Sunday night during the Daytona 500.
Involved in separate incidents, both Stewart-Haas Racing drivers crashed nose first into a part of Daytona International Speedway that was not for with a SAFER barrier wall. Instead, it was flat concrete.
SAFER barriers, or Steel and Foam Energy Reduction Barriers, were introduced in 2002 and reduces the G-force of an impact by over 50% (source). These barriers have been installed in racetracks all over the United States and with race speeds increasing each and every season, it’s a wonder that NASCAR and its sanctioning bodies haven’t mandated that all tracks need them installed.
There have been many instances on the track since these barriers have been installed where drivers have taken a hit and walked away with just a few bumps and bruises. On their website, racingmadesafer.com, drivers from various forms of racing speak highly of the barriers after an accident.
Former IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti said “having hit the SAFER barrier quite a few times and also having hit concrete before that, it’s a massive difference…It’s a great bonus for us.”
If SAFER barriers decrease the impact of a crash and drivers approve, why do major NASCAR and IndyCar tracks still have exposed concrete walls?
The price to instal SAFER barriers is roughly $500 a foot.
In May 2013, NASCAR CEO Brian France said that there was nothing preventing the sanctioning body from adding SAFER barriers everywhere, but that it felt they were in all of the right spots. Currently, NASCAR only requires tracks to have SAFER barriers installed in the corners.
Last season, Denny Hamlin hit the concrete wall at California so hard that he broke bones in his lower back and missed a handful of races.
Kyle Busch also crashed into a wall at Talladega without a SAFER barrier.
That is just naming a few.
Tracks like Daytona and Talladega, where the speeds are higher than other tracks on the circuit, should be required to have SAFER barriers on every exposed wall around the track.
Maybe it will happen one day.