Crossover gates to be one focus of inquiry
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- NASCAR will bring in outside experts to examine potential changes to race track fencing in the wake of last weekend’s accident at Daytona that injured several spectators, and could apply any short-term improvements to the next restrictor-plate event at Talladega in May.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president for race operations, said Saturday that the car of Kyle Larson, which flew up into the Daytona catchfence, will be reconstructed at the sport’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. The sport will also involve outside experts, including SAFER barrier developer Dean Sicking and fence engineering firms, to examine potential improvements that could include the relocation of crossover gates.
“To do this right, we’ve got to take the time to reconstruct the car, reconstruct the fence, reconstruct the accident,” O’Donnell said at Phoenix International Raceway, “and then go out and say -- OK, here’s what we know happened, and what would prevent that moving forward?”
Larson’s car flipped onto the frontstretch fence as part of a massive final-lap accident that marred last Saturday’s Nationwide Series opener. Although all the drivers involved walked away, several spectators were injured after parts of Larson’s car -- including the tires and engine -- penetrated the fencing. Two of those spectators remain hospitalized at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla.
O’Donnell said Larson’s car and its parts were impounded by NASCAR, and initially remained in Daytona so track officials and their fencing experts could inspect the wreckage. The vehicle is now on its way to North Carolina, where it will be examined both by NASCAR engineers as well as the Turner Scott Motorsports employees who built it.
“The team hasn’t had a chance to look at it,” O’Donnell said. “We want to talk abut how car was constructed, how it was fabricated, what we can learn jointly as they look at the car.”
Outside experts will also be involved. O’Donnell said NASCAR would include Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who worked closely with NASCAR to develop the SAFER barrier, as well as officials from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and fence engineering firms. It was a collaboration with a fence engineering firm that led to a new fence at Daytona in the wake of a 2009 accident at Talladega that involved Carl Edwards’ car flying up into the catchfence, and debris from the vehicle getting into the grandstands.
One focus of the investigation will be crossover gates. Larson’s car impacted the Daytona fence at the site of a gate, which allows access from the grandstand to the infield. O’Donnell said NASCAR will look at the placement of gates specifically as it applies to Talladega, given the similarities between that track and Daytona.
“I think because of where it hit, it having pieces that did get through, and it being a gate area, I think that's really going to be the focus for us,” he said. “We'll certainly look at fencing in general. But I think that particular area, the fact that it is a gate, did that impact it. We know the gate was locked, we know it was secure, but does that provide as much stability as the rest of the fencing? We believed it did. But we've got to now take a look at that based on this impact.”
O’Donnell said the search for fencing improvements will involve all tracks, but restrictor-plate venues -- where vehicles are more likely to become airborne -- will come first.
“Superspeedway racing at Daytona and Talladega is going to be the first concentration for us,” O’Donnell said. “We have a race coming up in May at Talladega, so anything we can learn in the in the immediate future that we can apply to Talladega, we’ll do that.”
O’Donnell also addressed other issues Saturday:
-- The injury Nationwide driver Michael Annett suffered in an earlier crash last week, he said, is concerning. Annett suffered a fractured and dislocated sternum in a head-on crash, and Thursday required surgery that used a metal plate and screws to pull his sternum back to its original position. Although Annett is already out of the hospital, he could miss up to two months.
“That’s an injury that we have not seen for some time now,” O’Donnell said. “So we’re going to look through that car now … That’s something that we’ve got to take a hard look at it, and make sure all the things that were in place worked for Michael, and anything we can improve on, we will.”
-- Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements, recently suspended indefinitely by NASCAR for using a racial slur in front of an MTV reporter at Daytona, will work with Richard Lapchick, who founded the Center for the Study of Sport in Society and is now chair of the sports business program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick is renowned for his efforts in furthering diversity and human rights activism within sports.
“We’ll have Jeremy work with Dr. Richard Lapchick,” O’Donnell said, “and get him back in the race car as soon as possible, and as soon as we deem fit.”
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