The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barrier system currently in place at all IndyCar and NASCAR oval tracks is in need of inspection for wear and tear after years of installation, according to its original developer.
Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska, explained during a safety and technical conference at the International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis that the SAFER barriers have three major components: structural steel tubing, closed-cell polystyrene foam blocks and nylon retention tethers. The foam blocks begin to lose their effectiveness for dissipating energy after about five years, said Sicking, but the nylon tethers are also affected by the elements, particularly sunlight. Most racetracks installed their SAFER systems between 2003 and '04, so the tethers are now in need of inspection.
"Almost all of the tracks have replaced the foam once," Sicking told NASCAR.com. "I've informally inspected the tethers during my walks around the tracks. And the tethers are now reaching a point where they need to be looked at."
Tethers are relatively inexpensive, Sicking noted, so repairs do not require a major investment.
"When they feel like their tethers are in need of system-wide replacement, you might replace every other one," Sicking said. "Then wait four or five years and replace every other one again. And that would keep your cost down."
In addition to long-term maintenance of the current SAFER systems on ovals, Sicking said that his group is working on a "crash cushion" for the walls at the entrance to pit road, continuing to work with road courses to implement SAFER technology, and to find a solution to the issue with catch fence safety. The latter was a major point of discussion following the fatal accident involving Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas, which prompted IndyCar to reassess its races on high-banked ovals.
Sicking suggested moving the fence supports as much as 8ft from the concrete walls, then supporting the fence with a cantilevered system.
"The solution is that you move the poles away, and that can be done," Sicking said. "If you can back the poles away from the fence, get them far enough away, most of your problems go away. We had a feasibility study funded a long time ago that we looked at, and that's what we concluded."
Sicking noted that the support posts would have to be significantly bulkier to provide enough support and dissipate the energy, which would require significant new investment. Sicking added that, funding permitting, he is willing to undertake further study of the concept.