NASCAR Xfinity series driver Michael Annett and Camping World Truck Series driver Dalton Sargeant visited the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility (MwRSF) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday to see a crash test of a thrie-beam bull-nose guardrail developed at UNL.
The drivers also stopped by to oversee the development of the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction, or SAFER barrier used on retaining walls at racetracks to prevent serious injury during accidents.
“We really just saw where the SAFER barrier started,” Annett said, “and why they put all the research into the testing we’ve talked about here today. It’s all about saving lives and reducing injuries in our sport.”
Their visit also included a tour of the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed, and a demonstration of a full-scale crash test at the MwRSF Outdoor Proving Grounds on the western edge of Lincoln Municipal Airport.
The event highlights a long-standing relationship between the University, NASCAR and IndyCar with the development of the SAFER barrier.
MwRSF researcher Bob Bielenberg has seen the benefits for both the University and for professional motorsports.
“I talk to NASCAR and IndyCar almost every week,” Bielenberg said. “We talk about their issues. We talk about other things we can do for them, and we help kind of review other safety aspects for them. Overall, that’s been a good relationship. We learn from the issues they run into, and hopefully we can provide them some good guidance to make everyone safer on their tracks.”
UNL first began research and development of the SAFER barrier in 1998. While these retaining walls are being used at practically every major race track in the United States, motorists regularly drive past safety innovations that were developed and tested by the MwRSF, like the thrie-beam, bull-nose guardrail that was tested Tuesday.
The bull-nose guardrail is designed to contain and redirect high-energy truck impacts and lower impacts felt by passengers in the vehicle.
“It redirects (drivers) back toward the roadway or along the side of the roadway safely,” Bielenberg said. “If you hit it on the end, the system wraps around the front of the vehicle and captures it and brings it to a safe stop.”
This is what it looks like when a 1/2 Tom pickup hits a thrie-beam guardrail at 62 mph. @UNLincoln has for 20 years developed SAFER barriers for @nascar and has been developing more safety standards for everyday motorists. #LNK #NASCAR @nebraskanews pic.twitter.com/tzVraNDIz2— Tommy Rezac (@Tommy_KLIN) June 5, 2018
The SAFER barrier, developed for higher-impact crashes in racing, is an energy-absorbing wall designed with stacked square steel tubes that are welded together to form a three-foot-high barrier.
“It’s basically designed to absorb energy and extend the impact and give the drivers’ safety harness, (HANS device), and his helmet a chance to work and to keep him safe in the car,” Bielenberg said.
Between the tubes and the original concrete wall are bundles of closed-cell polystyrene foam that are designed to absorb and redistribute the kinetic energy created when a vehicle contacts the wall.
The drivers who watched the crash test, Annett and Sargeant, stopped in Lincoln just over a week before they compete at Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA on June 16-17.
Annett suffered a bruised sternum during a crash at Daytona International Speedway in February 2013 during an Ixfinity Series race. His car hit the SAFER barrier head-on at speeds ranging from 180-190 mph. It was a very similar to the angle at which Dale Earnhardt’s car hit the concrete wall during his fatal accident in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
While the barriers are designed to prevent injury, Annett is grateful for the safety innovations that UNL has helped lead since Earnhardt’s tragic death.
No NASCAR driver has perished in a crash since the SAFER barriers were installed across all tracks on the circuit in 2002.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys that were around before the SAFER barrier that have had some hard hits,” Annett said. “Now, they hit this SAFER barrier and they just say what a difference it is.”