Wednesday, May 1, 2002 – Motorsports history will be made this
May when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the first
superspeedway to use an energy-absorbing barrier in its turns
The SAFER (Steel
and Foam Energy Reduction) barrier is in place for practice
for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500, which begins
Sunday, May 5.
Video of SAFER
Wall System installation (QuickTime)
by the Indy Racing League and the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since
1998, the SAFER barrier has been designed for multiple impacts
by Indy Racing cars and stock cars during an event. NASCAR
joined in the development of the project in September 2000.
founding in 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always
been a leader in automotive safety and innovation,” said Tony
George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
and Indy Racing League. “Today’s announcement of a new
energy-absorbing barrier represents another milestone in this
long history, and it will not be the last.
Motor Speedway in the month of May is the perfect time to
install and test the SAFER barrier. The amount of time teams
and drivers have to practice leading up to the race will allow
us to get feedback on the barrier. Though we hope it doesn’t
happen, the odds are likely that the barrier will be impacted
during those practice periods, which will allow us to evaluate
its performance before we get to racing conditions.”
4,240 feet of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s permanent
outside wall will be covered with the energy-absorbing barrier
for May. Each turn of the speedway will have 1,060 feet of
barrier and another 60 feet of transition element approaching
the actual energy-absorbing barrier.
“The goal of this
wall is to reduce the forces seen on the car to a range that
lessens the likelihood of the driver being injured,” said
Brian Barnhart, vice president of operations for the Indy
Racing League. “This barrier has really evolved since the
first PEDS barrier was put in place in 1998.”
The new energy-absorbing barrier is constructed in 20-foot
modules. Each module consists of four rectangular steel tubes,
welded together, to form a unified element. The modules are
connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of
2-inch-thick sheets of extruded, closed-cell polystyrene are
placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules
every 10 feet. Six or seven sheets of polystyrene are used in
each bundle, depending on the location on the module.
“One of the prerequisites presented to us was to create a
barrier robust enough to absorb an incredible impact and yet
maintain its integrity so the event could continue with little
or no delay for repair,” said Dr. Dean Sicking, director of
the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. “The principle behind the wall is it
provides a continuous barrier system that will remain parallel
to the track and move back as a unit as it dissipates energy.
The need for that movement is to prevent pocketing, which is
where the barrier wraps around the front of the car, which
extremely increases deceleration.”
Under the direction of IMS Director of Engineering and
Construction Kevin Forbes, an entire turn of the Indianapolis
Motor Speedway can be fitted with the barrier in less than two
days. Attachment times would vary at other facilities
depending on the length of track, height of wall and other
“NASCAR has appreciated working with Tony George and his
team,” said Gary Nelson, managing director of NASCAR
competition. “We are optimistic about the new SAFER wall, and
we are looking forward to its development.”
The SAFER barrier will be painted white to match the
Speedway’s traditional wall color.
“We believe this barrier is an appropriate solution for the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Forbes said. “It should be able
to be adapted to many other tracks, but each will have to be
Improvements and Innovations Timeline for the Indianapolis
●1911: Inaugural Indianapolis 500 winner Ray Harroun employs
what is believed to have been the first rear-view mirror on
his No. 32 Marmon “Wasp.”
●1921: The Duesenberg Motor Company team, operated by Fred and
Augie Duesenberg, introduces the use of four-wheel hydraulic
●1925: Front-wheel drive is used at the Speedway for the first
time on a privately owned Miller entry, driven by Dave Lewis
and Bennett Hill, that finishes second.
●Early 1930s: Magnetic particle inspection (Magnaflux) of key
safety-related components, such as steering shafts, is
●1933: Oil capacity restricted to 6 gallons; oil can no longer
be added after the race begins.
●1935: The first installation of colored warning lights (green
and yellow) completed at the Speedway in time for the 1935
●1935: Helmets are made mandatory, a first for motor racing.
They were not required in European grand prix racing until
●1936: First mandatory driver’s test is instituted, requiring
that all new drivers show their skills at various speeds
before they are allowed to practice for the “500.”
●1936: Inside concrete wall removed and safety aprons
●1938: Pit wall constructed to separate crews’ work area from
pit area, thus providing a safer working environment for crews
●1948: New emergency medical center constructed, expanded in
1972, and still in use today with state-of-the-art trauma
●1957: Pit area is completely redesigned with safety in mind.
A second wall is added, separating pit lane from the racing
●1959: All drivers required to wear fire-retardant uniforms,
and roll bars are required on cars.
●1964: New safety cable is installed on outer edge of entire
●1965: Only methanol fuel – which is much less volatile than
gasoline – is permitted. All cars must be equipped with a
rupture-resistant fuel cell, and on-board fuel capacity is
limited to 75 gallons. A minimum of two pit stops is required
for each car (increased to three in 1968 and four in 1972).
●1974: Onboard fuel capacity is reduced to a maximum of 40
●1979: “Packup” procedure established, whereby the Pace Car
enters the track during cautions to regulate the speed of the
●1991: Revolutionary energy-absorbing attenuator is added at
●1993: Crash data recorders, developed by Delphi Automotive
Systems, are placed in cars competing in the Indianapolis 500.
This is the first application of this groundbreaking
technology in motorsports.
●1993: New outside walls and larger, higher safety fences
installed. New warning strips and warm-up lanes installed.
●1998: First version of PEDS Barrier (Polyethylene Energy
Dissipating System) installed inside exit of Turn 4 in time
for the 82nd Indianapolis 500. The wall consists of
5-foot-long, overlapping impact plates made of polyethylene.
Each plate contains two cylinders made of the same material
and measuring 16 inches in diameter.
●1999: The second-generation PEDS Barrier, PEDS-2, is
installed inside the exit of Turn 4, replacing the PEDS
Barrier. PEDS-2 contains an additional, smaller, polyethylene
cylinder inside the original PEDS cylinder to add strength to
●1999: Debris fence added in North Pits, separating pit lane
from grandstands and enhancing fan safety. Additional debris
fence added south along pit lane in 2001.
●2001: Race Control Camera System installed.
Reaction from Indy
Racing League drivers and team owners about the SAFER wall
system announced May 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The
system will be used starting with Opening Day for the 86th
Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 5 (quotes listed in
JOHN BARNES (Co-owner, Pennzoil Panther Racing, 2001 Indy
Racing League champions): "I'm very happy with the outcome of
the 'soft wall' work that the IRL, NASCAR and the University
of Nebraska have done. It looks very encouraging. I have seen
some of the tests that have been conducted, and from where
they started and where they finished it looks very good. It
just shows how important safety is to the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway and these two great racing leagues. I know this
undertaking has been very exhausting to all involved."
BILLY BOAT (1998 Indianapolis 500 pole winner): "The
installation of the soft walls clearly shows that the Indy
Racing League and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are at the
forefront of new safety technology and driver safety.
Hopefully this is just the first track of many to implement
HELIO CASTRONEVES (2001 Indianapolis 500 winner): "Safety
first. I am glad we are coming up with something to protect
the drivers. We are trying everything we can to make the cars
safer; I am glad the tracks are willing to step up with this
EDDIE CHEEVER JR. (1998 Indianapolis 500 winner): "The Indy
Racing League has done a good job of getting everybody in a
room and asking how do we make our cars safer, everyone from
teams and drivers to chassis, engine and gearbox
manufacturers. Over the past six years, we have reinvented
open-wheel oval racing. The safety of these cars has improved
dramatically. The next logical step had to be making the walls
softer. On paper this sounds easy, but it has taken a huge
investment in time, research and money. It took Tony's
(George) commitment to make this happen."
BUDDY LAZIER (1996 Indianapolis 500 winner): "I think it is
awesome. As a race driver that has suffered a serious injury,
it is very, very comforting to know the Indy Racing League and
Indianapolis Motor Speedway go far and beyond what they have
to do. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been the
center of innovation. Once again they lead the industry."
GREG RAY (2000 Indianapolis 500 pole winner, 1999 Indy Racing
League champion): "What I have heard on the outside is that
the walls will be at places on the racetrack where on normal
racing line if you're in the race, it's not going to affect
the racetrack. It's not going to affect the width; it's not
going to affect the track out or turn-in points like that. But
if something goes wrong after turn-in and before the exit of
the corner, I think the walls are meant to be in a position to
where it could soften the blow of the concrete in a very
sharp-angle accident. I'm sure they've done a lot of testing,
and they've done a lot of computer simulations. I'm sure it
will be an improvement. On this particular soft wall, this is
brand-new technology for all of us; this is really cutting
edge. As it gets implemented and things happen, we'll continue
to learn. There's no doubt that everybody involved in the
sport, everybody involved in the industry, needs to have open
communication to talk about safety issues."
SAM SCHMIDT (Owner, Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "I'm extremely
proactive of anything that will decrease the effects of impact
of the wall. I applaud Tony (George) for taking such a
proactive stance. A lot of people only get fired up when
something bad happens. Tony has been working relatively
quietly on this for some time. He has invested a great deal of
time and money. I think it is a step in the right direction.
Obviously, it is not the complete answer. We live in a
dangerous sport. If we can at least eliminate this (injuries)
from happening one time out of 10, then it is worth it."
AL UNSER JR. (Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner):"I think it's
great that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is implementing
something that has been talked about for years on how to
improve the safety of racing, in general. It does not surprise
me at all that, again, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the
leader in technology in safety all across the world. I think
it's wonderful. It's great that it is happening at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway because they are the ones that
have developed all of the safety technology and have been the
leader in safety across the board from cars or racetracks or
to discuss this article