On May 1, 2002, INDYCAR founder Tony George announced a safety innovation that would revolutionize the sport of automobile racing. George announced that the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barrier would be installed in all four turns of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in time for practice for that year’s Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Under development by INDYCAR and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility since 1998, the SAFER Barrier was designed to reduce the severity of impacts by Verizon IndyCar Series cars, one of the most effective safety measures taken in the racing industry in recent years.
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.
Version 2 of the SAFER system was developed during 2002 and 2003 by the same team that developed the original SAFER system. In response to many detailed studies of the original SAFER Barrier, Version 2 incorporated improvements
that further minimize damage to the system upon impact, allowed one configuration to be used for both open-wheel and stock cars and allowed SAFER Barriers to be installed on virtually any racetrack geometry, regardless of corner radius or banking. Since late 2003, Version 2 has become the standard and has been installed on a majority of the racetracks hosting open-wheel and stock-car racing.
All six ovals on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule have the system installed in all four turns. Iowa Speedway has the Alternative Backup Structure for the SAFER Barrier in its track design. On other tracks, the system has been “retro-fitted” to the existing concrete walls (mainly in the turns) of racetracks. Iowa Speedway was the first track to have the SAFER Barrier system around the entire perimeter of the track. It’s also the first to install the new system, which does not have a concrete wall behind it.
Under the direction of George, other key IMS and INDYCAR officials involved in the development of the SAFER Barrier include: Kevin Forbes, IMS director of engineering and construction; Phil Casey, retired INDYCAR senior technical director; Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR vice president of competition; and Dr. Henry Bock, retired INDYCAR director of medical services. The team has worked closely with Dr. Dean Sicking, director of the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility, and his staff since 1998.
Awards & Recognitions:
Since its introduction, the SAFER Barrier has earned four major accolades:
- Autosport Pioneering and Innovation Award (2004)
- Louis Schwitzer Award (2002)
- SEMA Motorsports Engineering Award (2002)
- GM Racing Pioneer Award (2002)