Dover Speedway gets even SAFER: Soft walls will now cover all outside walls at track

DOVER — Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, doesn’t see why NASCAR drivers shouldn’t feel as safe as possible when it comes to their high-speed work environments.

That’s why Dover International Speedway has elected to install Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers all along the front straightaway and backstretch in preparation for this June’s NASCAR tripleheader at Dover.

The extensions of the SAFER barriers will mean the entire outside wall at Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval will be surrounded by technology intended to absorb and reduce kinetic energy during the impact of an accident, and thus, lessen injuries sustained to drivers.

“Continued improvements to our facility, particularly in the areas of fan and driver safety, are of the utmost importance to us,” Mr. Tatoian said. “The decision to add more SAFER barriers is a collaborative decision with NASCAR and various stakeholders and collectively we felt this is something that needed to be completed prior to NASCAR’s return to the Monster Mile this spring.”

Dover officials expect work to be complete on the project before the June 2-4 NASCAR weekend at the Monster Mile, which will be highlighted by the “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, June 4.

Officials at Dover International Speedway announced on Monday that the track will place SAFER barriers, such as this one, along all of the outside walls of the track by June. (Dover International Speedway)

The additional SAFER barriers will be installed by Smith Fence of Clearwater, Fla., beginning in March.

Smith Fence will be adding around 1,800 feet of SAFER barriers to the currently unprotected outside walls, including the gates for track entry, one on the front straightaway and one on the backstretch.

Monster Energy driver Danica Patrick raised the issue regarding having SAFER barriers all around Dover’s outside walls following a vicious crash in practice at the track last May.

Patrick’s Chevrolet spewed smoke and broke loose exiting the fourth turn before the rear end of her car erupted into flames as she spun down the frontstretch during that practice session.

The now-retired Tony Stewart, Patrick’s car owner and teammate, and Jamie McMurray both crashed hard into an area of the fourth-turn wall after driving into oil left on the track by her car. They hit the outside wall where there was no SAFER barrier installed.

Stewart walked gingerly to the ambulance after his car came to a stop against the pit wall. McMurray was also collected in the crash and suffered an injury to his elbow.

Some of the competitors were quite vocal about the lack of SAFER barriers on the outside of the fourth-turn wall following that incident.

“I think I saw it’s about twice the G-load impact when you hit a non-SAFER barrier,” said Patrick. “It shouldn’t even be a question whether or not tracks have SAFER barriers all the way around. It should be mandatory. It shouldn’t be a financial decision.”

The most common argument against SAFER barriers along Dover’s frontstretch and backstretch walls was that it would change the racing line driving up out of the corners.

Kevin Harvick doesn’t believe that will be a problem.

“We put SAFER barriers in the groove at Darlington (South Carolina) and it’s two-and-a-half cars wide,” Harvick said. “So, there’s really no excuse not to have it in my opinion.”

In response to last May’s practice crash, Dover International Speedway added about 500 feet of SAFER barriers along the outside wall in the second turn, under the walkover bridge, and along the outside wall of the fourth turn entering the frontstretch, prior to last October’s race.

Monster Energy driver Joey Logano applauded Dover officials for their quick response in regards to safety.

“Dover has really done a great job in making the facility as safe as possible for us as drivers,” he said. “The Monster Mile is an extremely fast track. For only being a one-mile track, the high-banked corners and concrete surface produce really high speeds and with that you increase the risk for heavier impacts.

“As a driver I really appreciate the investment in safety. The initiative to add 1,800 feet of SAFER barrier to completely cover the outside walls is another great step.”

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