NASCAR officials have worked diligently over the years to improve the safety of their sport, studying crashes such as this 2010 one involving Elliott Sadler at Pocono Raceway in order to learn what might be done differently to best protect drivers. In recent years, enhancements made to the new-model car, as well as additions such as SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers at the tracks and the mandated use of head-and-neck restraint systems inside the cars have gone a long way to make the sport safer. Here’s a look at how many of NASCAR’s latest safety enhancements work.
In October of 2001, NASCAR mandated that all drivers must wear a head-and-neck restraint system while driving their cars. Currently two such systems are approved and used: the HANS Device and the Hutchens Hybrid device. In addition, in 2007 the sanctioning body mandated that all drivers must wear a six-point belt system instead of the previously approved five-point harness.
The greenhouse area, or cockpit, of the car was a key element in the new car's design. The driver was moved further away from the door toward the center of the car and the roof was raised 2½ inches to allow for more clearance in the areas surrounding the driver, which makes a huge difference in protecting the drivers during violent wrecks.
The body panels on the cars re fabricated from gauge/0.0247-inch minimum, cold-rolled sheet metal to stand up better in high-speed crashes better. That helped protect Joey Logano (then driving the No. 20 Home Depot car) and everyone else involved in this 2009 crash at Dover International Speedway.
Steel plating and energy-absorbing material located between the roll cage and the door panels are designed to help minimize the force of a crash on a driver as the panels crush to take the bulk of the impact. That helped Ryan Newman escape this car uninjured after he went airborne in a 2009 wreck at Talladega.
A cage of steel tubing inside the body of the car was designed to protect the driver during a crash, especially when the car rolls. Its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a series of violent wrecks at restrictor-plate tracks where cars have flipped, been hit by other cars or slid on the pavement on their roofs and yet the driver has ultimately walked away uninjured. For example, Carl Edwards is seen here climbing unharmed from his car after it soared into the catchfence at Talladega Superspeedway in the same 2009 wreck that involved Newman.
Commonly referred to as soft walls, the SAFER barrier system has been installed at all oval tracks and at key areas on road courses. The impact-absorbing wall helps take some of the sheer force of a crash off of the driver by allowing the wall to compact as the car makes contact with it.
Cables are attached to the chassis where the hood connects to the car, keeping the hood on the vehicle in a crash such as this Kurt Busch incident at Daytona International Speedway. While that might make it hard for a driver to continue after impact, it keeps the large piece from flying into the grandstands or into another car on the track.
Roof flaps deploy when the car is turned sideways or backward in a spin, as seen by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2010. Their purpose is to keep the car on the ground and they have proven effective in limiting the number of cars going airborne -- although cars have still flipped in recent races at NASCAR’s higher-speed tracks.
Tire tethers are steel cables used to connect the tires to the actual cars. They are intended to keep the tires from flying off the vehicle in a crash, helping to protect both other drivers on the track and fans in the stands, as seen in this David Ragan incident at Daytona International Speedway