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AUTO RACING

Fontana Will Get Softer, SAFER Walls

March 03, 2004|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

Soft walls, the latest development in motor racing safety, will be installed at California Speedway in time for the Auto Club 500 NASCAR Nextel Cup race May 2, it was announced Tuesday by Bill Miller, track president.

Work will begin early next month on the walls, officially known as SAFER, for Steel and Foam Energy Reduction.

"We all know that safety is paramount in our sport, and this is another positive step going forward," Miller said.

The barriers will be constructed in three sections of the two-mile track in Fontana. Two sets will be along the turns of the oval, with one set starting at the entrance to the first turn and running to the exit of the second turn. The second set will start at the entrance of the third turn and run to the fourth-turn exit.

A third set will be placed on the inside retaining wall near the second-turn exit and will extend approximately two-thirds of the way down the backstretch.

The SAFER wall technology consists of rectangular steel tubing backed by foam blocks that are installed in front of the track's concrete walls.

The walls, designed to absorb energy at the time of a crash, were developed by Dean L. Sicking, a civil engineering professor at the University of Nebraska. In 2003, Sicking received NASCAR's award of excellence.

California Speedway will become the seventh NASCAR track to have the soft walls in place for a Nextel Cup race. Tracks at Darlington, Richmond, Phoenix, Homestead-Miami, New Hampshire and Indianapolis already have the barriers in place.

Brian France, NASCAR's chief executive officer, said last month in Daytona Beach, Fla., that all Nextel Cup tracks would be fitted with the SAFER barrier system by next January.

Daytona and Talladega, the two fastest tracks on the circuit, are expected to be in compliance before their next races, although their high banking creates a problem for construction crews. Daytona has 31-degree banking, Talladega 33-degrees. California Speedway has 14-degree banking.

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