Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

Will Restrictor Plates work at New Hampshire?
By Frank Ryan
September 13, 2000

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This weekend's race at Loudon, New Hampshire will feature 1" restrictor plates being used as a safety measure on the Winston Cup cars. After nearly two months of contemplation, NASCAR issued this mandate in an attempt to minimize the chances of a serious accident occurring at the 1-mile speedway. But in an attempt to solve one problem they may have created another, even worse than the first.

Restrictor plates are made for a single purpose, to restrict the air and fuel mixture into the engine, thereby reducing horsepower. On a track like Daytona or Talladega this idea works as designed to reduce the speed and hopefully improve safety. But on a track like Loudon it creates other problems. 

The horrific accidents that claimed the lives of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were not necessarily the result of excessive speed on the track, but instead caused by a stuck throttle. Looking at the racing line at Loudon, there is a point before entering the turn where the driver lifts off the throttle and brakes. Since the maximum speed a car can travel through the turns is a constant, the speed of the car traveling down the straightaway will determine the lift point off the accelerator. But as the straightaway speeds are reduced, as with the restrictor plates, then the lift point will move deeper into the corner. If the throttle hangs open at this modified lift point it gives the driver much less reaction time to try to correct the problem or stop the car.

How much will the restrictor plates affect the cars this weekend is yet to be seen? Johnny Benson, driver of the Aaron's Rents #10 Pontiac had these thoughts on the restrictor plates. 

"We don't know what the speed difference is going to be, they tried to calculate on computers to try to figure out what the speed difference is going to be. I estimate it is going to be a 9-10 MPH difference instead of a 10-15 mph difference on the entrance speed and that's a positive. We all want to race well and go as fast as we can, but the issue in front of us is that they changed the rules, we are still going to go out there and run as fast as we can. The challenges are still the same; the speed is going to be just a little bit less as far as entering a corner. The interesting part on this is those speed calculations are estimated at lifting on the accelerator at the exact same spot. I have a feeling that with less horsepower and less speed at that particular section of the track, we are going to be on the throttle a little bit longer to try to make up time, and in reference to that the reaction time if something happens is roughly about the same, it is still not enough time to actually be able to do anything if something were to happen, but we live with that fact every day that we are on the race track, every place we are on the race track. It's not just because it is Loudon, I don't think that's the issue."

Is there much of a difference between hitting a wall at 140 mph or hitting it at 150 mph? Would you rather know the throttle is stuck 300' from the wall or 400' away? Either way seems to be a no win situation, if the throttle hangs you are going into the wall hard, plain and simple. Which brings us back to soft walls and the need for NASCAR to thoroughly evaluate the alternatives. After all, racing is dangerous business and it is human lives we are talking about here.

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