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AutoMatters & More: Sand-filled barrels save lives on the racetrack & on the street

Slight impact turns Brandon Jones towards pit lane
Slight impact turns Brandon Jones towards pit lane
(Jan Wagner)

On Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, race fans witnessed a spectacular crash that they may never forget. I know that, six months later, my memories of that event are still vivid.

The event was the NASCAR Xfinity Series “Production Alliance Group 300” race, the first race on a two-race weekend that concluded with the NASCAR Cup Series “Wise Power 400” race on Sunday.

These were races from two of the three national race series sanctioned by NASCAR: the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Safety has been a top priority of NASCAR, especially since the tragic racing accident that claimed the life of seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt on February 18, 2001, on the last lap of the Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s crown jewel.

Unable to avoid the barriers
Unable to avoid the barriers
(Jan Wagner)

An excellent feature article on NASCAR.com provides a history of NASCAR’s safety efforts www.nascar.com/long-form/a-legacy-of-safety/

NASCAR is continually doing research into what will make the cars and the track safer for drivers, crews and spectators alike. Those ongoing efforts have led to improvements in everything from changes to the seats, headrests and belts the day after Earnhardt’s crash, the HANS device — “widely considered the most important safety development in the car in the history of racing,” entirely new generations of racecars and track safety — “replacing concrete walls with energy-absorbing SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers. This was the most important development other than the HANS device.”

A hard hit into the sand barrels
A hard hit into the sand barrels
(Jan Wagner)

One safety feature is not new, but it nevertheless goes a long way towards saving lives. As told in a feature article titled “The Highway Crash Cushion” (https://blog.iqsdirectory.com/plastic-barrels-3/), sand-filled fuel cans surrounded the tent of John Fitch in World War II, protecting him from enemy strafing runs. Years later, that inspired him to fill yellow, plastic barrels with sand, cover them with black lids, and strategically place them as safety barriers around race tracks.
These have been improved over the years. In an article titled “Sand barrel crash cushions designed to take an impact” by the Arizona Department of Transportation (https://azdot.gov/node/7630), we learn that “sand barrel crash cushions are filled with sand, shaped like a barrel and work to provide a ‘cushion’ if a vehicle were to crash into one. A sand barrel crash cushion works similarly to the way an attenuator functions.”

“A vehicle’s speed and size determine how much energy it has. Normally, this energy is dissipated by your brakes, which burn off that energy slowly, allowing you to come to a safe stop. But, if a vehicle stops by crashing into a wall, the energy is dispersed very suddenly, resulting in a car that’s crushed. Attenuators won’t exactly give a soft landing, but they do work to dissipate the energy slowly like your brakes do.”

“The weight of each barrel varies – they weigh 200, 400, 700 or 1,400 lbs. The lightest barrels are placed in front and they get progressively heavier to handle the impact, absorb and dissipate the energy of a crash.”

Safety personnel rush to the driver’s aid
Safety personnel rush to the driver’s aid
(Jan Wagner)

“They come with inserts, which help crews fill them with sand accurately. Depending on the desired weight (they’re very light to begin with – before the sand goes in), they’ll use an insert designed to take up some of the space within the barrel. Crews then just have to fill with sand to the appropriate level to make sure it’s heavy enough.”

You can see examples of these barrels, and a video showing how they work, at the PSS Safety Products website: https://pss-innovations.com/safety-products/crash-cushions-channelizers-drums/crashgard-sand-barrel-system. It explains that their “CrashGard® Sand Barrel System is a non-redirective, gating sand barrel, or crash cushion. The system consists of 3 MASH-compliant components: barrel, lid and insert. CrashGard protects drivers from fixed objects like concrete barriers, bridge abutments, and lighting fixtures.”

Brandon Jones walks away from the crash
Brandon Jones walks away from the crash
(Jan Wagner)

It goes on to say that one CrashGard Sand Barrel accommodates all weight requirements (200, 400, 700, 1400, and 2,100 pounds). Install an insert for 200, 400, 700, and 1,400 lbs. No insert is required for 2,100 lbs. The CrashGard Sand Barrels are blow-molded from high molecular, high density polyethylene plastic (HLMI/HDPE) that produces a stronger sand barrel. UV stabilizers maximize product life. Color-stable pigments resist fading. They are designed for easy transport, with a squared bottom that accepts forklifts, and a tiered top that accepts the CrashGard Hoist.

Barrels nest easily for convenient storage.

To see the most photos and the latest text, and to explore a wide variety of content dating back to 2002, visit AutoMatters & More at AutoMatters.net. On the Home Page, search by title or topic, or click on the blue ‘years’ boxes.

Copyright © 2022 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #756


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