I bid you welcome gentle readers to what I hope will become an interesting discourse between us as we learn some things together… and it wouldn’t break this old heart if someone from NASCAR were to join in because we’re going to make some sense out of things together, you and I. Most folks see me as a bit of an anomaly… an old lady in the age of technology, but I do my best to keep abreast, as it were. This past week, I was given a crash course in Google Earth. Granted, I learned just enough to make me a possible threat to mankind, but I also learned there are websites for everything, and they are there for our edification. I’ve done some of the legwork and gratefully accepted some help from others, but look what I have come up with. I call it “Truth at a glance” and it shows exactly how much SAFER barrier protects each track, and how much of each is still exposed to the Jeff Gordon concrete-seeking radar.
By the time this reaches you, this year’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will already be in the record books, and I pray that all drivers walked away without meeting the grand display of unprotected concrete walls you see in this picture.
Without resorting to a micrometer, I’d say this track is just about 50/50 in the ratio of protected to unprotected walls. If Jeff Gordon missed the concrete at Las Vegas, it was by the grace of God, with not much help from NASCAR.
Now, let’s take a look at Phoenix, the next track up on the much ballyhooed Western Swing, which by the way, this scribe has suggested over and over again since two of these tracks joined the circuit, Las Vegas in 1996 and Auto Club in 1997, without recognition. Smart thinking Brian, and it only took 18 years.
This one is a smaller track, measuring only a mile as compared to the 1.5-mile track in Las Vegas. The larger track sports the new progressive banking, while little old Phoenix is too flat a platter to hold the soup, as my Gram would have said. Flat tracks do, as a rule, produce slower speeds, but it’s not the speed that kills; it’s the angle at which the car hits an unforgiving wall. Remember, we lost two promising young racers at the 1-mile flat track in New Hampshire, and that fact alone makes a very convincing argument for having SAFER everywhere feasible.
Harkening back to Las Vegas for a moment, because that’s where I am in time as I type this, we’ve been reading conversations that say after this race, the powers that be from the track will be meeting with NASCAR to discuss “long-term plans” for enhanced safety. Excuse me? Surely, I can’t be reading that right! What part of 14 years…FOURTEEN YEARS… wasn’t long-term enough that only half of that track is protected today? That is the same sort of “promise” we’ve gotten every time this subject arises. Yes, it takes time to build a SAFER barrier and yes, it’s specialized work requiring specialized parts. That’s why it’s so expensive… but it’s also why it works!
Here’s a free ticket to a column I wrote two years ago, with a fairly easy to understand explanation of SAFER, how it works and why. Please note that a couple of corrections need to be made in figures I quoted then. They may seem insignificant, but I want to be correct, and these figures come directly from Dean Sicking, the “Father of SAFER.”
1. The panels are 28 ft. long, not 20.
2. The panels are secured with nylon straps, not cables.
The following is something else Dr. Sicking kindly shared with me, in his own words. NASCAR, please read this carefully and stop telling folks that tires on a wall are somehow a replacement for the peace of mind and body that SAFER barriers offer to our drivers.
“The safer barrier functions by separating the collision into two separate impacts. During the collision with the SAFER wall, the car accelerates a section of the wall and slows the velocity of the impacting car. The wall is tuned to move a wall mass that is approximately the same as the weight of the car. Recall HS physics, when a moving object strikes a stationary mass of about the same weight in a fully plastic impact, Conservation of Momentum analysis would indicate that the moving object loses about half of its velocity. In our case the car loses about ½ of its velocity perpendicular to the wall. This impact throws the driver toward the wall and his belts begin to restrain him. As the foam is crushed, the driver stretches his belts. Before the foam is fully crushed, the belts begin to pull the driver back toward his seat. When the driver is moving back toward his seat, he will not be exposed to the high decal rates that occur when the steel SAFER wall strikes the concrete barrier. In essence, we cut the effective impact speed in half and this generally cuts the risk of serious injury and fatality by a factor of 4.”
Tires, depending upon the angle of impact, can and do repel a car and bounce it back into oncoming traffic, thereby exposing both car and driver to secondary and tertiary collisions with other vehicles, while SAFER’s design absorbs kinetic energy from the impact and dissipates it away from the driver, reducing, as Dr. Sicking explains, the force of impact by half and chance of injury by a factor of 4. In simple English, if a car hits a SAFER barrier at 100 mph, the driver feels an impact equal to 50 mph and his risk of injury is cut to ¼ of what it would have been without SAFER.
Today I’m reading that Jeff Gordon will meet with NASCAR after the Las Vegas race to discuss the presence or absence of SAFER barriers, yet Jeff admits he really doesn’t know enough to make an effective representation to the sanctioning body. If anyone has Jeff’s ear, please send him to read not just this column, but also the one linked above. All of my words have either been OK’d or added to by Dr. Sicking, and can be trusted to be the truth. I really wish that NASCAR could say the same. Remember, at one time, they told us these barriers had been “Mandated” by them, only to learn much later that there is a large discrepancy between mandated and really mandated. This scribe wearies of word games and semantics. Just try the truth guys! It can do wonders for your credibility.
Phoenix Raceway, you’re next up on the schedule. The picture above, depicting your existing SAFER coverage is true and accurate as of this date. We, the fans that care, do not care about tires on the wall. When do you plan to complete adding SAFER to the remaining walls of your track? That’s a very simple question, and we’d appreciate a very simple answer. Just an expected completion date would be wonderful.
NASCAR, the burden is on you. Please, mandate the SAFER barriers everywhere feasible, and mean it. Mr. France, we honestly do not care if at some other time of the year a track races ostriches. It simply does not matter one whit when compared to the safety of the human lives inside those cars you sanction. Hear our message; you’re going to keep on seeing it until it’s everywhere!
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout, and it occurred to me sometime in the wee small hours of the morning that there is a genre of Classic Country I don’t believe we’ve ever touched on. My fault entirely; mea culpa, mea culpa! Today then, we concentrate on yodeling, a style of singing classic to more than just our country. First up is Mama’s all-time favorite, the King of the Western Yodelers, Elton Britt, doing his incomparable version of “Chime Bells.” Please enjoy!
Next up is one that enhanced the life of the teenager I once was. I’m not sure Kenny Roberts is the best yodeler I’ve ever heard, but he has to be up top somewhere on the list. Here is Kenny with his smash hit from the early 1950s, “She Taught Me to Yodel.”
Next we’ll hear from a guy that was a truly awesome yodeler, but didn’t do enough of it. Here’s the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, yodeling his way through “The Cowboy Night Herd Song.”
And lastly, one from the distaff side. Once upon a time, I had a recording of Jean Shepard doing Chime Bells. Alas, that was on vinyl and doesn’t live here anymore. Among all of Jean’s recordings, I’ve never managed to replace that single one. This lady though, does a marvelous job as well, so here is Wanda Jackson singing “The Cowboy Yodel.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!