NASCAR’s Unsung Heroes; The Research and Development Team Saves Another Life

[media-credit name=”Freddy Martinez” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]The last noise a race car driver never wants to hear when his mind is focused on maneuvering around his favorite track, is the deafening screech of tires, followed by the impact of the car exploding against a retaining wall or tire and foam attenuator.

After the initial impact, there is usually an eerie moment of silence from the fans as the driver slowly gathers his thoughts, while wondering if it’s an indication he is no longer breathing the air around him.

For the fans there is nothing more spectacular and exciting than watching some aggressive side by side racing, where each driver pushes the limits of his Sunoco burning race car beyond what is almost abnormal for a 3500 pound motor vehicle. As with all forms motorsports, there is always the high element of danger lurking around lap after lap, as it waits for the driver to make one crucial mistake so it can strike with deceitful intentions.
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Each driver knows ahead of time the risks they take playing a game of cat-and-mouse, which pits man or woman against a highly sophisticated, and extremely dangerous fast moving maze of metal parts. It’s this maze of metal parts coupled together with a high performance power plant that can change a driver’s world in a moment’s notice, because of the high speeds they are racing at.

NASCAR racing at any level will always be one of most competitive forms of motorsports, when you factor in all the banging and bumping that takes place as each driver fights for the same piece of real estate. So what happens when two, three, or even four drivers are racing for the same piece of track, and within a moment’s notice the cars become entangled with one another?

Jason Patison, a driver in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist Super Late Model series at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, found out first hand as so many driver have in the past just how dangerous this sport can become in the blink of an eye. It wasn’t so much who was at fault, or the circumstances that led up to Patison and fellow driver Dennis Schlarbaum both sliding against the front stretch wall, and hitting the tire and rubber attenuator which is in front of the exit to the track.

Instead it was the fact that both drivers were able to walk away from yet another spectacular crash, but looking at the cars it would leave one to believe the driver of the No. 17 should have sustained some sort of life threatening injuries. Patison was transported to an area for hospital for precautionary measures after complaining of a headache, and was found to have suffered a mild concussion, but was treated and released after his injuries were found not to be life threatening. “It happened so fast I didn’t have time to back out of it.

The car carried momentum and pushed me out the exit into the attenuator. I closed my eyes and waited for the hit. Honestly it jarred me it hurt but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I thought it was gonna be a lot worse,” said Patison the next day after the crash. Patison added that, “I think with the way the seats are built and the Hans device, and the cage was built really well. It absorbed a lot of the impact. I commend the car builder Port City Muskegon, MI and Short Track Racecars in Ramona, CA. for building a safe car.”

The NASCAR research and development team is responsible for every aspect when it comes to driver safety, and the team spends countless hours testing, designing, and carefully looking for any flaws to ensure that each driver has the safest car possible. From the twisted metal steel that makes up the roll cage, to the six-point racing harness, along with the carbon fiber seat that holds the driver snuggly in place, no expense is spared in the construction of these technically advanced racing machines.

These are just a few of the safety features that are very noticeable, along with the rest of the equipment that goes into building some of the safest race cars that are out on the track today. Track safety also plays a major role, and has always come under fire anytime an incident such as the one that involved Patison this past weekend, with most of  the controversy surrounding the magnitude of the wreck.

The tracks are continuously evaluated to ensure the safety of the drivers, and also the fans that come out to enjoy this high speed and dangerous sport which pits man against machine. I talked with Bob DeFazio who is the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, about their policy on keeping the drivers safe, and giving the fans the comfort of knowing the track is as safe as it can possibly be.

DeFazio started off by saying that, “There are guidelines we have to follow. We are the poster child for NASCAR in the weekly series, and they look at our race track but also the emergency and safety personal crews.” DeFazio also added that, “There are 50 plus tracks around the country in their weekly family, and we are looked at for all our procedures,” which should give both driver and fan the comfort of knowing that NASCAR does consider TS@I one their safest and a premier facility.

The speedway has never spared any expense when it comes to driver safety, “We constantly look at safety whether there is an incident or not. Two cars were involved and both drivers walked away because of the steps we take to make sure the race track is safe.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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