There is a debate within the world of IndyCar as to whether a new and safer type of fencing should be installed at tracks – something less likely to injure a driver gone airborne than the catch fences and support posts used today. We characterize it as a "debate" but judging by the story in Autoweek, no one is against more safety – not drivers, not track owners, not IndyCar execs – but more importantly, no one knows who's going to kick in the $100 million dollars to get a project going.

You read that correctly: one of the doctors who worked on the SAFER barrier system estimates "it will cost $100 million to research, develop and install" either a hard barrier or an energy absorbing curtain around the necessary ovals. True, those are but two options, but in light of the physical realities and forces involved there aren't a whole lot of ways to go, and none of them might be any cheaper. Beyond that, IndyCar only uses five ovals and safely halting flying cars isn't a technology useful to NASCAR, both realities that impinge on the ability to amortize costs. A feasibility study alone is figured to cost $60,000, but the doctor's opinion is that it's not even worth starting the project if you don't know you'll get the money to finish it.

The CEO of IndyCar believes the track promoters should pay for the R&D, considering it just a part of making their facilities as safe as possible. There have been eight fatalities at oval tracks in the 34 years since CART (the predecessor to IndyCar that was absorbed by IndyCar) was established, six of those in the past 20 years but only two of the total were fence-related. Several parties consider that lucky, and that we're only waiting for it to happen again. On the other hand, Eddie Gossage, who owns the Texas oval, said the financials don't support him spending up to $20 million – it would make more sense just to give up the race – and he believes it should be IndyCar that pays.

Gossage said that in 33 years no one ever expressed concern to him over the fencing before Dan Wheldon's death last year. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be a concern now, but racing is dangerous and everyone knows it, and everyone also knows racing is a business and the bottom line is ultimately incompatible with the pricelessness of human life. Where is the middle ground and who'll be standing there if and when it's found is a question that's a long way from an answer.


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  • 17 Comments
      Karl T
      • 2 Years Ago
      Considering the rarity with which drivers/cars get up-into the fences, and the highly improbable likelihood of a driver being killed, I fail to see the need to incur the expense of new alternatives. With regards to Dan Wheldon's accident; if you've read the report or summary, the largest contributing factor of the catch fence is that it is/was one where the poles are TRACK-side, not grandstand side. This is contrary to the most common form of construction where the posts are towards the grandstand. Instead of Dan's car and helmet 'sliding' along a relatively smooth fence where the fence was pushing against the backside of poles, Dan was pushing a fence AWAY from its support/bindings and also impacted the poles. Not only that, but Vegas has large eyebolts that stick towards the trackside. I've been an SCCA corner marshal since '93 and safety improvements are always a good thing, but you must also look at the specifics of each incident, course, car, car part, etc.
      Brett Fisher
      • 2 Years Ago
      How about just installing left and right turns, that should slow things down.
        Robert Fahey
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Brett Fisher
        Nah. Add a toll booth on the track requiring $1.49, exact change only, with proceeds to pay for the new fencing.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Xenovitalis
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why do these discussions always lack the most obvious improvement, switching to closed cockpits?
        bear_man2
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Xenovitalis
        Formula 1 doesn't have an issue with safety...
          Kai F. Lahmann
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bear_man2
          Remember, what happened to Felipa Massa on the rather slow Hungaroring a few years ago?
          Narom
          • 2 Years Ago
          @bear_man2
          A freak accident that didn't kill him, while at the same time a closed cockpit would have sent the piece of metal flying into the crowd...
      Aarond525
      • 2 Years Ago
      Indycar is a stupid sport and should stop claimping lives of drivers that would be safer in nascar. Open wheeled light weight cars are designed to go around corners fast not push their absolute limits 100 percent of the time like nascar. If u want. Ring racing nascar is a great form of motosport
        Karl T
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Aarond525
        a. "...Indycar...." b "..claimping..." c "....nascar...." d "...light weight..." e "...not push their absolute limits 100 percent of the time like nascar...." You have the intelligence -as well as the grammar skills- of a ground squirrel..
      budwsr25
      • 2 Years Ago
      I thought the new car was suppost to help stop then from going airborn. The only way to fix this is to get rid of the poles that support the fence, we all know thats not going to happen. Here is an idea. Put steel panels an inch or two under the track and mount electronic magnets under the cars that can be activated in the event of a crash. That would then pull the car down to the track and stop the car from flying it would also stop the car from sliding across the track and crashing into others.
        budwsr25
        • 2 Years Ago
        @budwsr25
        We just would have to figure a way to limit the G-Forces the drivers would get from the sudden stop. Maybe G-Suits fighter pilots wear that infate with air.
      SpikedLemon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Alternate concept: trash the ovals. Make them turn both directions. Driving in circles is boring.
      Tobashadow
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why not a closed capsule system like the high speed drag boats use that are like a fighter plane cockpit. They go through alot of G forces in crashes and walk away with nothing but minor bruises.
      Masschine
      • 2 Years Ago
      The one change I can think of unless there's some arcane physics involved would be to put the fence on the outside of the pole. In the image it's inside the pole. And maybe add a wing to the pole that curves inward to lessen the hard edge.
      GasMan
      • 2 Years Ago
      This is the classic "Everyone thinks its a great idea, as long as someone else pays" scenario. It is expensive to design and deploy and requires upfront money before anyone gets any benefit. Parties involved are not swimming in cash and the series is not popular enough to demand the tracks upgrade in order to get a race. Sounds like a non-starter to me.
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