Fence dilemma a ‘difficult, delicate’ obstacle at tracks

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Industry officials and experts have been busy pondering over what can be done to improve the catch fencing at race tracks.

In a piece penned by Curt Cavin in today’s Indianapolis Star, SAFER Barrier developer Dean Sicking vowed that “this problem will be solved” but also said that time and money will be major obstacles to any initiative.

“…We haven’t figured out how to (test) fly a car,” Sicking said to Cavin. “We have concepts for flying a car, but to start running the test is real money, and we don’t have that.”

There’s also the matter of balancing safety and the fan experience. For example, going with taller fences may provide more safety, but those could also hamper sight lines for spectators and force facilities to remove chunks of seats.

Another point: Figuring out materials for fencing that can not only protect the fans but maintain their visibility of the action on the track.

It all makes for a huge problem, and finding the solution would appear to be anything but a straightforward process.

“It’s a very difficult, delicate, sensitive balance between spectator protection, driver protection, sight lines and cost,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of engineering Kevin Forbes said in Cavin’s piece.

“It’s very challenging, because we don’t want to break the law of unintended consequences in terms of safety and sight lines. Certainly, we don’t want to make this worse.”

Catch fencing has been a major topic in recent years following the fatal crash of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon in 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the outcry for improvements has escalated further since last Saturday’s final-lap accident in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway. At least 28 fans were injured after debris from the hellacious wreck went into the front-stretch grandstands.