Crash protection of stock car racing drivers—application of biomechanical analysis of Indy car crash research

John W Melvin, Paul C Begeman, Ronald K Faller, Dean L Sicking, Scott B McClellan, Edwin Maynard, Michael W Donegan, Annette M Mallott, Thomas W Gideon
Stapp Car Crash Journal 2006, 50: 415-28
Biomechanical analysis of Indy car crashes using on-board impact recorders (Melvin et al. 1998, Melvin et al. 2001) indicates that Indy car driver protection in high-energy crashes can be achieved in frontal, side, and rear crashes with severities in the range of 100 to 135 G peak deceleration and velocity changes in the range of 50 to 70 mph. These crashes were predominantly single-car impacts with the rigid concrete walls of oval tracks. This impressive level of protection was found to be due to the unique combination of a very supportive and tight-fitting cockpit-seating package, a six-point belt restraint system, and effective head padding with an extremely strong chassis that defines the seat and cockpit of a modern Indy car. In 2000 and 2001, a series of fatal crashes in stock car racing created great concern for improving the crash protection for drivers in those racecars. Unlike the Indy car, the typical racing stock car features a more spacious driver cockpit due to its resemblance to the shape of a passenger car. The typical racing seat used in stock cars did not have the same configuration or support characteristics of the Indy car seat, and five-point belt restraints were used. The tubular steel space frame chassis of a stock car also differs from an Indy car's composite chassis structure in both form and mechanical behavior. This paper describes the application of results of the biomechanical analysis of the Indy car crash studies to the unique requirements of stock car racing driver crash protection. Sled test and full-scale crash test data using both Hybrid III frontal crash anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs) and BioSID side crash ATDs for the purpose of evaluating countermeasures involving restraint systems, seats and head/neck restraints has been instrumental in guiding these developments. In addition, the development of deformable walls for oval tracks (the SAFER Barrier) is described as an adjunct to improved occupant restraint through control of the crash forces acting on a racing car. NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc) implemented crash recording in stock car racing in its three national series in 2002. Data from 2925 crashes from 2002 through the 2005 season are summarized in terms of crash severity, crash direction, injury outcome, and protective system performance.

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