Work in Sports
Lowe's Motor Speedway tests new safety wall
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) -- Lowe's Motor Speedway, reacting to the on-track deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, tested a new "soft wall" Tuesday that could lessen the trauma on a driver when cars hit the retaining wall.
The soft wall is a block of plastic foam covered in cases made out of polyethylene - the same kind of material used to make gasoline containers. The polyethylene is molded into a one-piece shell that is filled with a full foam core of the styrofoam.
The theory is that when a car hits the wall at high speed, it can absorb the blow and limit the collision's effects on the driver.
Petty and Irwin were killed this year when their cars hit the concrete wall at about 150 mph in separate accidents at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Lowe's Motor Speedway, which is considering using sections of the styrofoam on its retaining wall for its Oct. 8 race, tested the soft wall's effectiveness Tuesday by lifting a Cadillac 100 feet into the air then dropping it onto the wall.
By the time the 5,000-pound car hit the wall, it was estimated to be traveling at 60 mph.
The front end of the Cadillac was destroyed in the collision, but the driver's area appeared to be intact. Small chunks of the black casing surrounding the foam was dented and torn, but the wall remained otherwise intact.
Track president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said it would take at least two days to analyze the data and determine how effective the wall was.
"We wanted to see what the impact was being on the foam, and it came out about what I thought," Wheeler said. "But it will be another two days before we know the full results because there's a lot of math, time, velocity and weight involved."
The wall is the creation of a Cellofoam, a Georgia company that was making and marketing the walls as floating boat docks. The walls were built to sustain the impact of a boat crashing into them, and company president John Johnson thought the product could also help at racetracks.
"We're NASCAR fans. We watch the races and we don't want people getting hurt," Johnson said. "We called and said we've got a product that we think can help and there is obviously a need for it."
Johnson contacted Lowe's officials and sent them the materials for Tuesday's test. Wheeler said the track would continue to test the material before deciding whether or not to use it in October.
Tracks use a variety of barriers ranging from tires, barrels filled with water and regular foam blocks around their inside retaining walls.
While Lowe's Motor Speedway is only interested in using the soft walls for its inside wall, Johnson said he was confident his product could also be effective on outside walls.
Winston Cup driver Geoffrey Bodine, on hand for the test, said it was a shame it took the deaths of two drivers to spark renewed safety efforts.
"We're glad that people are really looking at these things and trying to find better barriers for us," Bodine said. "But it's kind of sad that two friends, Kenny and Adam, and what happened to them had to jump-start this search."