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SAFER barrier

safer barrier, safer barrier walls
The Steel and Foam Energy Reduction Barrier SAFER Barrier, sometimes generically referred to as a soft wall, is a technology found on oval automobile race tracks and high speed sections of road and street tracks, intended to absorb and reduce kinetic energy during the impact of a high speed crash, and thus, lessen injuries sustained to drivers and spectators It was designed by a team of engineers led by Dean Sicking at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln It was developed from 1998–2002, and first installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2002

The SAFER barrier consists of structural steel tubes welded together in a flush mounting, strapped in place to the existing concrete retaining wall Behind these tubes are bundles of closed-cell polystyrene foam, placed between the barrier and wall The theory behind the design is that the barrier absorbs a portion of the kinetic energy released when a race car makes contact with the wall This energy is dissipated along a longer portion of the wall The impact energy to the car and driver are reduced, and the car is likewise not propelled back into traffic on the racing surface

The SAFER barrier also lessens damage to the car itself, thereby reducing repair costs After its introduction in 2002, nearly every oval track on the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits had the device installed by 2005 Road and street tracks apply SAFER barriers on high speed cornering sections where space is limited

The SAFER Barrier and its developers have won several awards within the racing and engineering community, including the Louis Schwitzer Award, Pocono Raceway Bill France, Sr Award of Excellence, NASCAR Bill France, Jr Award of Excellence, R&D 100 Award, SEMA Motorsports Engineering Award, GM Racing Pioneer Award, Autosport Pioneering and Innovation Award Sicking also received the National Science and Technology Medal from President George W Bush, in part due to his work on the SAFER Barrier and on other roadside safety devices12


  • 1 History
    • 11 PEDS Barrier
    • 12 SAFER Barrier
  • 2 Other forms of "soft walls"
  • 3 References
  • 4 External links


Throughout the decades of organized professional automobile racing, track owners and sanctioning bodies were constantly developing and attempting to utilize various devices to protect drivers and spectators in the event of a crash Tire barriers, water and sand barrels, Styrofoam blocks, gravel traps, guardrails, earth embankments, and other various low-cost devices were implemented, with a varying level of success and usefulness In most cases, the devices were practical for road and street courses, but impractical, or particularly inappropriate for oval tracks

Oval tracks typically were constructed with reinforced concrete walls around the entire perimeter of the track and along parts of all of the inside perimeters The high speeds of oval track racing required strong walls to prevent cars from leaving the racing surface and protect spectators alike, primarily due to centrifugal force Early years saw metal guardrails on the outside perimeters at some oval tracks, but their limitations and troublesome results saw them completely phased out by the late 1980s The concrete walls generally showed favorable protection for spectators, and even against large NASCAR stock cars, routinely held up nearly unscathed during crashes However, the hard surface and unforgiving nature of the walls were prone to cause injury to the drivers in a crash

In the later years of the 20th century, sharply increasing speeds and several high-profile fatal accidents accelerated the need and public outcry for safety improvements at the track level3 The undesirable results or outright failures of existing safety devices required the need for a full-scale research and development of a new device

Throughout the 1970s–1990s, Indycar constructors, for instance, had attempted to address the issue of impact dissipation through car design Pieces of the car wheel assemblies, wings, bodywork, etc were designed to breakaway after impact, absorbing kinetic energy Crumple zones were also created While it typically yielded positive results, it also had drawbacks The debris field created new hazards for cars approaching the crash scene, and if cars hit pieces of the debris, it could be propelled into the spectator areas In two high-profile incidents multiple spectators were fatally injured when sheared off wheel assemblies were punted into the grandstands

PEDS Barrieredit

The precursor to the SAFER Barrier was developed in 1998 The Polyethylene Energy Dissipating System or PEDS Barrier was developed by the Indy Racing League and retired GM engineer John Pierce at Wayne State University The device consisted of PE cylinders mounted upright along the concrete wall, covered with plates of the same material, overlapping each other in the direction of travel The plates mounting pattern resembled scales on a fish

The PEDS barrier was installed on a trial basis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in time for the 1998 Indianapolis 50045 It was installed along the inside wall near the entrance to the pits However, it was not impacted during the race About two months later, the barrier received its first full-scale test During the 1998 IROC at Indy race, Arie Luyendyk spun and impacted the barrier broadside with his IROC stock car The violent impact ripped many of the PEDS Barrier components from the wall, threw them high into the air, and littered the track with huge amounts of debris Luyendyk's car bounced off the wall, across the track and back into oncoming traffic The car was narrowly missed by another car approaching at high speed

Though the barrier was credited with saving Luyendyk from serious injury,67 it was deemed mostly a failure due to the flaws that were exposed with the design A slightly updated version PEDS-2 was installed for a trial basis for the 1999 Indianapolis 500, but after driver Hideshi Matsuda impacted it, another major flaw the tendency to "catch and pivot" was exposed The barrier was removed soon after

SAFER Barrieredit

SAFER barrier at Talladega Superspeedway

After the mixed results with the PEDS Barrier, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway contacted engineers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln starting in the fall of 1998, in order to spearhead development of a new barrier Dean Sicking at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility led the project, sponsored and bankrolled by the Indy Racing League, with some support from NASCAR

With the primary goal of reducing driver impact, the project also had the following objectives:

  • A device that would have a flush surface – to prevent "catch and pivot" or "wrapping" scenarios
  • A device that would be able to be retro-fitted to the existing concrete walls at the multitude of speedways across the country, which each had varying existing conditions
  • Prevent the car from bouncing back to the racing surface and into oncoming traffic
  • Be able to withstand both open wheel Indy cars and heavy NASCAR stock cars since many tracks hosted both series
  • A device that could easily be repaired after impact – preventing lengthy delays during an event
  • Cost-effectiveness

The SAFER Barrier development was completed in the spring of 2002, and was first installed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2002, in time for the 2002 Indianapolis 500 It was first "tested" by Robby McGehee in a crash during the first day of practice

After successful usage at Indianapolis, the system began to be installed at several other tracks nationwide By 2006, every oval facility that hosted an IRL IndyCar Series or NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event included the SAFER barrier In 2006, Iowa Speedway became the first racetrack to install a SAFER barrier that extends around the outer circumference of the track, rather than retrofit one to a concrete wall in the turns Most oval speedways more than a mile in length in the United States have since installed the system

An interesting challenge was presented with Dover International Speedway When officials came to install the barrier, they found the wall, which was made of steel and not concrete, would not support the system Officials were able to install the system on the inside concrete wall successfully After a re-design and further testing, the system was installed a year and a half later

The barrier received its first road course usage when Watkins Glen International adopted the SAFER barrier for key sections of the circuit, most notably in the bus stop chicane and Turn 11 for 2010 International road and street track adoption for the SAFER barrier has progressed gradually Typically they are installed on high speed cornering sections, where space for runoff areas or gravel traps is limited and side impacts are of concern Notable uses include:

  • Circuit de la Sarthe: Porsche Curves 20168
  • Autódromo José Carlos Pace: Turn 14 20109
  • Baku City Circuit: Turns 13, 19 201610
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: Turn 5 201711

Other forms of "soft walls"edit

  • Cellofoam — This is an encapsulated polystyrene barrier—a block of plastic foam encased in polyethylene
  • Impact Protection System IPS — This inner piece of the wall is then wrapped in a rubber casing Holes are drilled in the concrete wall and cables are used to tie the segments to it
  • Compression barriers — This idea is to place cushioning materials, such as tires, water barrels, or sand barrels, against the concrete wall, and then cover those cushions with a smooth surface that would give when impacted, and then pop back out to its previous shape once the impact is over


  1. ^ "Jayski's® NASCAR Silly Season Site – Safety: Soft Walls/SAFER" jayskicom Retrieved 22 February 2015 
  2. ^ "Jayski's® NASCAR Silly Season Site – Safety: Past Soft Walls/SAFER" jayskicom Retrieved 22 February 2015 
  3. ^ "All News Releases Distributed by PR Newswire" prnewswirecom Retrieved 22 February 2015 
  4. ^ Miller, Robin May 23, 1998 "Speedway's 'crash wall'proves sensible even without real test Part 1" The Indianapolis Star p 39 Retrieved August 25, 2016 – via Newspaperscom 
  5. ^ Miller, Robin May 23, 1998 "Speedway's 'crash wall'proves sensible even without real test Part 2" The Indianapolis Star p 40 Retrieved August 25, 2016 – via Newspaperscom 
  6. ^ "Indianapolis Motor Speedway" indianapolismotorspeedwaycom Retrieved 22 February 2015 
  7. ^ "PEDS Barrier Passes First Test in Luyendyk IROC Crash" theautochannelcom Retrieved 22 February 2015 
  8. ^ Smith, Luke 2016-05-20 "SAFER barrier set for introduction at Le Mans" MotorSportsTalk Retrieved 2017-07-02 
  9. ^ "New 'soft wall' installed at Interlagos" GPUpdatenet Retrieved 2017-07-02 
  10. ^ Horton, Phillip "Formula 1: Minor tweaks at Baku ahead of Azerbaijan GP" Motorsport Week Retrieved 2017-07-02 
  11. ^ "Key upgrades for Montreal Formula 1 track" Motorsportcom Retrieved 2017-07-02 

External linksedit

  • Midwest Roadside Safety Facility – designers of the SAFER Barrier
  • IndyCarcom – The official site of the IRL
  • Eldora meets guidelines without SAFER barriers
Preceded by
Pioneering and Innovation Award

Succeeded by
GP2 Series

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