NASCAR Evolves Safety After Recent Crash

In the wake of the horrific crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 which cost the legendary Dale Earnhardt his life, NASCAR has since made the safety of each and every driver a top priority. Many new requirements and features have been put into place in order to help limit the damage that is often seen in the accidents that occur on the racetrack. Unfortunately, damages are not always mitigated. With the most recent crash occurring at the 2020 Daytona 500 race that had left long-time driver Ryan Newman in serious condition, NASCAR is once again left with the decision to improve the safety of the many drivers who risk their lives every weekend.

Safety regulations in NASCAR were not as big as they are now. Earnhardt’s fatal crash has served as the catalyst for change, calling for improvements in order to better protect the safety of drivers on the track. Around the end of the 80s and throughout the 90s, many changes were made, ranging from restrictor plates, pit stop speeds, and roof flaps. In the aftermath of Earnhardt’s crash, many significant changes were made throughout the years. His crash is often cited by many to be the event that changed NASCAR’s outlook on safety.

One example of the changes made include a requirement to wear what is known as the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device. According to Car and Driver, “The HANS essentially works like an airbag. But instead of inflating a cushion to arrest occupant motion in a collision, it uses a raised collar and two polyester-fabric tethers to secure the driver’s head. The driver’s shoulder belts hold the tall, stiff collar securely in place. The tethers link the sides of the driver’s helmet to collar anchor points. When g-loads build during a forward impact, the HANS device assures that the driver’s helmeted head moves with his torso so the vulnerable neck and skull bones aren’t overloaded.” Before the HANS requirement went into effect, Earnhardt and many other drivers resisted the use of it during the races, with Earnhardt referring to it as “a noose” and claiming to have no idea on what the device is while being interviewed.

Another major safety change that had to be made was the implementation of the SAFER barrier, which had been in development since 1998, according to In the spring of 2001, NASCAR began to work in conjunction with the Indy Racing League on the ongoing development of the barrier. The main objective was to provide a barrier that could handle the hefty amount of steel and foam energy that is prevalent in NASCAR crashes. On Indycar’s official website, it states, “The SAFER Barrier is constructed in 20-foot modules, with each module consisting of four rectangular steel tubes, welded together, to form a unified element. The modules are connected with four internal steel splices. Bundles of 2-inch-thick sheets of extruded, closed-cell polystyrene are placed between the concrete wall and the steel tubing modules.” Over the next couple of years, different versions of the SAFER barrier have been developed, implementing small adjustments in order to further limit the amount of damage upon impact. The 2nd version of this is commonplace and has been implemented on many different race tracks ever since late 2003.

While unfortunate, the death of Earnhardt ignited the emotions of many people. From fans to pit crew members and drivers, his death impacted everyone in some way, especially NASCAR as a whole. Ever since the catastrophic crash took place in 2001, NASCAR has placed improving the overall safety of the sport at the top of its to-do list. Besides the HANS Device and the SAFER Barrier, there have been many changes, big and small, made to help polish different aspects in order to help perfect the means of making NASCAR a safe and fun sport for everyone. Examples include adopting six-point seat belts, “black boxes” which are used to log data in the event of a crash, such as speed and impact, a requirement to wear the HANS device, as well as a complete redesign of the stock car, known as the “Car of Tomorrow”, which was conceived in 2008. Changes like these have prevented the deaths of many drivers, such as that of Newman, whose life was saved at the 2020 Daytona 500, thanks to the various equipment and safety regulations put out by NASCAR. While it is a shame that it took the death of a legendary driver to change the sport’s look on safety, NASCAR has now made the safety of the sport its number one priority and will continue to improve for not only the drivers, but for fans and crew members as well.