Soft walls are a NASCAR success story
While most have raved about SAFER barriers for the past six-plus years, many people believe the energy absorbing walls should run all the way around tracks.
It has been almost six years since the first SAFER barrier has been implemented in NASCAR. Introduced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002, the Steel And Foam Energy Reduction barrier, or soft wall, has had a huge impact on the sport's safety by reducing the impact on driver's bodies during crashes.The technology was created at the University of Nebraska's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, which focused on all aspects of highway design and safety, and began development in 1998 under a team led by Dr. Dean Sicking. Made up of steel tubes and pads of hard foam, they are designed to absorb energy transferred during a crash to give the driver a better chance of survival at crashes up to 150 mph. Dr. Sicking and his team were given NASCAR's Award of Excellence for their efforts in 2003. Marc Mitchell, a rookie in the NASCAR Craftsman truck series, praises NASCAR for bringing SAFER barriers into the sport. "NASCAR has always done a great job looking out for the safety of its competitors," Mitchell said. "When cars began leaping the retaining walls, NASCAR replaced the guardrails with concrete barriers. Once we learned that we could reduce the impact into the concrete, NASCAR mandated SAFER barriers. I know that it hurts to hit solid concrete a lot more than it would to run into the soft wall, so I applaud NASCAR for what they've done. I'm sure they're studying what the next step is in the safety evolution -- it might be to extend the SAFER barriers all the way around the track, or maybe there's something they could do to the race cars to make them safer, but I'm sure NASCAR is doing what they can to stay one step ahead in the process." Actually, Mitchell isn't far off. While the SAFER barriers have become a staple on the outside walls at each track, Jeff Gordon suffered one of the toughest hits of his career at Las Vegas earlier this season when he hit an inside wall that had no SAFER barrier. Fellow competitor Jeff Burton, long one of the sport's biggest safety advocates, was furious. "Without mincing words, [the Las Vegas] incident and how Jeff hit the wall in a word is inexcusable," Burton said. "The thing that I've been saying for seven years, six years, is that we can never be 'as safe as we can be'. If we ever get to the point where we quit looking to be better, we're going to quit being better, and the wall [at Las Vegas] is a good example of that."