Soft Wall Cushions Easley's Hard Crash
Posted May 9, 2003 6:47 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Easley walked away from a crash at Lowe's Motor Speedway Friday because of all the safety measures in place.
Every driving stint by a non-professional begins with that person signing a release waiver specifying that in the event of an accident, neither the track nor NASCAR will be held liable. That's a clear indication that driving a stock car is not risk free.
At the same time, the risk is reduced by modern safety features such as soft walls.
Soft-wall technology made its grand entrance to NASCAR when Jimmie Johnson was still driving the Busch Grand National Circuit. The softer barrier converted what could have been a tragic accident by Johnson into a scene of celebration by the young driver after the wall did what it was supposed to.
Last fall, Gov. Easley drove laps in Johnson's Winston Cup car. It also was Johnson's No. 48 that the governor piloted Friday when he lost control.
Ironically, the same soft-wall technology that saved Johnson cushioned Easley's visit to the inside wall Friday.
The introduction of the soft-wall technology a couple of years ago generated instant support.
"A driver that hits a hard wall pulling 40 G's is probably not going to make it," Lowe's Motor Speedway owner Humpy Wheeler said at the time. "We need to find a way to soften the barriers."
Said driver Jeremy Mayfield: "You can't say it wouldn't work. Most of the time when a driver gets hurt, it's because of the impact. So, it's got to help."
Through the years, NASCAR has done many things to make the cars safer -- first requiring helmets, seat belts and roll bars. Later, the sanctioning body slowed speeds on superspeedways by adding restrictor plates to the engines and then requiring roof flaps to hold the cars on the ground.
After the death of Dale Earnhardt, teams began developing safer seats, and NASCAR required drivers to wear some type of head-and-neck restraint.
All of those features, plus the soft barriers on the inside wall in Turn 2 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, helped Easley -- who was wearing the HANS device -- walk away from a wreck that totaled the $80,000 car he was driving.
NASCAR officials believe soft walls are a mixed blessing. The sanctioning body has concerns about how they would affect spectator safety.
NASCAR officials also have stated that collisions with soft walls at certain angles might result in the car being grabbed -- making the accident worse.
At this time, NASCAR continues to study soft walls. Presumably, Gov. Easley would give them his endorsement.
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Lowe's Motor Speedway