Dirt late model safety interview

I was interviewed recently for an article Speedway Illustrated published in their October issue. The article was about driver cockpit safety, mainly in regards to driver escape from a cockpit when a full containment seat is in place. I had made a comment that any real advances in the area of driver safety have to start with the sanctioning bodies. I think I need to expand on this idea a little and give a little more clarity to this area.

When a full containment seat is used, the headrest and the shoulder supports block a portion of the window opening and make escape, especially after a crash when a speedy escape is necessary. At Wild Incorporated, we moved the front of the roll cage forward to allow a bigger window opening. What really needs to be done is the increase the window opening on the passenger side of the car. The window opening is just not big enough on the passenger side of the car for a driver to fit through.

EPJ flip at Volusia Speedway Park

In February of 2009 Earl Pearson JR. flipped his car at Volusia county speedway and was knocked unconscious by a clump of mud. With the car hanging upside down rescue workers could not get him out of the car. After this there was some media attention about full containment seats and cock pit size, but soon it died down and was replaced with the usual rhetoric of how to make the cars faster. With car builders wanting to take full advantage of all the air possible over the deck. No one wants to be the first to wreck the aero just to make the cars easier to get out of the right side of the car. At certain tracks disrupted air flow over the deck could potentially slow the car by a half a second.  Making the roof narrower, like it said in the article, and angling the tin down from the right side door to the bottom of the driver’s seat would allow an easier exit out the passenger side of the car. This is similar to the configuration in an asphalt late model, but with a windshield, the air doesn’t pass through the car and it doesn’t hurt the air flow.

Chassis competition is much too competitive in the dirt late model market to take a chance on taking aero away to make the cars safer. This is the reason I mentioned in the article that the change must come from the sanctioning bodies. The sanctioning bodies must enact rules and put pressure on car builders to make the cars safer. I honestly don’t believe that car builders want to build unsafe cars; that would be ridiculous. I do believe that car builders are caught in the trap of creating fast vs. safer.

I heard an interview Mark Richards, of Rocket Chassis, gave after the Earl Pearson incident. He elated to the to the fact that the sanctioning bodies need to increase the minimum weight of the cars. His hope, I think, is that the cars would be built stronger and safer; probably building them out of heavier tubing or adding more tubing to them. I have my doughts that this will work, because some car builders might still build them light and just add lead to make the minimum weight. What really needs to happen is that a certain set of car construction rules needs to be created and enforced by all sanctioning bodies.

dirt late model safety homologation

Here is a scenario I’ve been thinking about for a while. How about having a homologation process for all cars to go through. All cars must meet design regulations and be certified by a particular safety organization. This process is currently happening in Europe. Cars and go carts are presented to the FIA for approval. Their design characteristics are then certified and locked in for a certain number of years. We could do something to this effect with the center section and roll cage section of the car. Each chassis builder would submit the design of their cages and cockpits to a committee for approval. These would then be certified. Chassis builders would be free to change suspension points, but the cage design would have to remain the same.

The other aspect of this and probably the biggest obstacle in getting this implemented is the fact that at a grass roots level, there is no unified sanctioning body that could control changes of this magnitude. It always seems either money or other agendas get in the way of a unified late model sanctioning. Maybe if the homologation board could be a nonprofit group of volunteers; People without agendas or monetary ties that may get in the way of safety. If anyone has any feelings or ideas about what can be done about this problem, please leave me a comment or an email about the subject.

Till next time, be safe.