Tear-offs add new layer to windshield safety
NASCAR drivers stare straight in the face of danger every race, and the ever-evolving windshield makes sure those hazards don't fly straight into their faces.
It's a part of the car that has changed significantly since the days of "strictly stock" NASCAR racing -- the windshield. Although many safety improvements have been made in the sport over the years, the introduction of the polycarbonate windshield not only protects drivers from injury during a crash, but it changes the way drivers see the racetrack -- literally.When the first NASCAR-sanctioned race was run in Daytona in February 1948, traditional windshields were made of tempered glass, designed to shatter upon impact. Detroit's introduction of safety glass, two pieces of glass with a layer of vinyl sandwiched between, brought improvement to the series in the 1950s. It wasn't until the 1990s that the windshield standard changed yet again, this time with the introduction of the polycarbonate windshield. Also known by the brand name Lexan, the new material was considerably stronger and safer for drivers. But polycarbonate windshields are not perfect. While the exceptional strength of the material prevents shattering of the windshield upon impact with an object, it is easily scratched because it is very soft. Objects that hit it scratch, dent or imbed in the windshield, causing very poor visibility. Steve Peterson, who until his death Tuesday was NASCAR's technical director since 1995, had been instrumental in the development and implementation of such safety features as the SAFER Barrier, head and neck restraints, improved seat belts, cockpit surrounds, seats and fire safety. "There was a lot of work done in the early days with coatings on the polycarbonates to make them more scratch resistant and not show swirls or circles when in high ambient light like driving into the sun," Peterson said in an interview last month. "There were times when we first started using Lexan that we would have to change the windshield between the Happy Hour session and race morning and put a new windshield in because it would become so scarred and scratched.
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