NASCAR: Strict Rules Racers Must Follow
What helped Ryan Newman to survive in a car crash on a sports track? What amazing changes have been made to improve helmets and seats for drivers in the past 10 years? And why pit stop cannot be longer than 5 minutes? Here’s how some different incidents have shaped the NASCAR safety protocol over the past couple of decades.
On the 18th of February, Ryan Newbury crashed during the final lap of the race, just like the legend Dale Earnhardt had done 19 years before. It is likely thanks to the safety changes made because of the loss of Dale Earnhardt that Ryan survived.
You won’t believe it but one of the first changes that were made after that accident in 2001 was the mandatory full-face helmet. Drivers didn’t wear full-face helmets back then. Today this is obviously seen as an essential item for any racing driver.
This abbreviation stands for Steel and Foam Energy Reduction Barrier, which was first introduced a year after Earnhardt’s crash. The Barrier is made of common race tracks’ steel tubes but has closed-cell polystyrene foam and it is placed between the barrier and the walls of the track. This new formula helps to dissipate the energy that comes from a car rushing at full speed and basically slows it down after the vehicle crashes into the barrier.
Have you ever seen footage of NASCAR accidents and wondered how the drivers are able to get out of the car and walk like nothing happened and wave to the crowd? It’s all due to a HANS (Head And Neck Support) device, also known as a head restraint, and this has a major difference to its predecessors. Instead of securing the helmet to the seat, HANS secures the helmet to the driver's head.
After Earnhardt’s demise, NASCAR had to make changes to ensure it didn't happen again and made HANS devices an obligatory part of safety protocol in 2005.
Besides for the helmets and systems that secure them, the drivers' seats also had to evolve. Today, instead of old-fashioned aluminum, the seats are made of more high-tech carbon fiber, which also protects the driver’s rib cage. This new design reduces the shock to the body that occurs during a collision.
Drivers today have a greater chance of getting out of the car after a crash, as they are secured to the seat with a new type of belt. Unbelievably, but almost sixty years ago, drivers preferred not to wear a seat belt, because they didn't want anything stopping them from getting out of the car. Now the six-point harness allows the driver to release it by simply pressing the latch.
A reliable and professional pit crew is much more important than you may realize. A driver makes a pit stop if there’s a problem with his car: he may need fuel, to change his tires, repair his race suit or fix any other snag.
It seems obvious to us now but it's unbelievable that it took some time for the company to realize that drivers should not enter the pit at the full speed they were originally driving. So now to pull off to a pit lane, drivers have to press a special button that was added to a wheel, which helps to keep the speed limit between 40 to 60 miles per hour when entering the pit.
While Formula One can have up to 21 members since 2018 NASCAR permits only 5 people in a pit crew. All of these 5 members: jackman, two tire guys, a guy who refuels the car, plus the coolest guy who gives the driver a cup of water - have to wear fire-resistant race suits, just like the driver’s.
It’s crazy but it only became a rule for the team and pit crew members to wear helmets 4 years ago!!! However, if the driver stops at the pit lane for more than 5 minutes to repair damaged bodywork he cannot get back on the track. This makes sense not only in terms of fair competition but also because if the car needs more than 5 minutes to get fixed, it may have severe damage and it’s not safe for the driver.
We know what you’re thinking, 5 minutes isn't very long, but the usual NASCAR pit stop usually takes between 12 and 16 seconds. The record of the fastest pit stop ever happened at Formula One in 2019 at the Silverstone Circuit in England, where Red Bull pulled off a 1.91 second stop.
One of the most surprising rules is about changing tires. The crew members noticed that changing tires on the side closer to the drive-through gave the driver an advantage. They then pressed to change tires on the side closest to the walls so once they are done they do not block the driver's way.
NASCAR saw this as a safety bonus, as it also protects the crew members from getting injured when the driver starts to drive away and made it a rule.