NASCAR outlaws the practice of flared fender side skirts

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There’ll be no skirting the issue of side skirts in NASCAR in 2015.

Prior to NASCAR Chairman Brian France’s State of the Sport address Monday afternoon, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell made it very clear that the manipulation of side skirts will not be allowed in 2015.

Several teams pulled out the side skirts in front of the rear wheels – particularly the right “passenger” side of the car – during pit stops last season to achieve what they believed might be a slight aerodynamic benefit, essentially turning the side skirts into a type of fender flare.

The action was typically done on the first pit stop of a race because a car has to have the side skirts straight and in conformity with NASCAR templates and rules during pre-race inspection.

The practice was used by only a few teams initially, but became more commonplace later in the season – particularly during the Chase for the Sprint Cup – as teams believed the flared side skirts allowed for better airflow, particularly over the rear of the car.

NASCAR did not stop the practice last season, but promised a review during the offseason. That review is now complete and flaring of side skirts will not be allowed in 2015.

Here’s what O’Donnell had to say about the new rule prohibiting the side skirt manipulation practice:

It was a much-discussed topic from last year, side skirts. As many of you know, we deliberately decided against any changes near the end of last season.

So in 2015, teams manipulating the fenders or flares during a race will be asked to come back down pit road (to essentially un-flare the side skirts) and we’ll use any means possible to police that, particularly our new pit road officiating system.

We’ll look at that through video and any means possible during the race season.”

O’Donnell did not discuss what, if any penalties will result against teams that violate the new rule

The practice and subsequent new rule against it came after NASCAR consulted with many teams.

“One important note is we looked a lot with our race teams, to talk about what was the best way to do that, and this is where we landed heading into the 2015 season,” O’Donnell said. “We continue to work towards a goal of fair, tight competition, offering our fans the best racing in the world and all of our expectations for competition heading into the Daytona 500 are that it’ll be even better this year.

“We’re not going to rest for 2015, ‘16 or ‘17, but we look forward to continued progress towards that best racing.”

After O’Donnell’s speech, NASCAR Executive Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton gave additional clarity to the new rule:

The adjustment on the side skirts and body side, there’s many opinions on it and there’s not really consensus, but when you look at what that is for and that is to change the aerodynamic balance of the car.

We know when we go to Goodyear tire tests that the cars aren’t tested in that way. That is not something that is modeled in any way shape or form or tested.

To be correct with the entire garage area and all of our vendors and suppliers and other people we work with, it’s best to just regulate and keep it in as in the box as we can.”

Pemberton was also asked why NASCAR didn’t outlaw the practice during last season.

“It got to the point where we didn’t feel comfortable with making a change of how we regulated the sport in the middle of the Chase,” Pemberton said. “It’s as simple as that.

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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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