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Splash & Go writes:
"On Leffler and Sprint Cars"
Posted by Uptight Motorsports Nerd on July 1, 2013
Viewed 221 times


Note: I started writing this before the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

A lot has been said about short track safety in a post-Leffler world. There appear to be a lot of complaints about the safety features of short tracks, but most of these come from people who do not know what they are talking about. Those who call for SAFER-barriers to be ubiquitous appear well meaning, but they don't seem to grasp its effectiveness at low speeds. On paved ovals larger than a half-mile (804.672 meters), it isn't a terrible idea, particularly at Thompson International Speedway which features Martinsville-like straights and North Wilkesboro-like size. At bullrings and dirt tracks, speeds are likely too low for any dramatic improvement. The SAFER-barrier has been so lauded as a life saver over the last decade that people expect it to cure all problems.

Allow me to state the evidence I've seen reported. Leffler suffered a right-front suspension failure exiting the last turn at Bridgeport Speedway. Leffler hit the wall at an angle, and then began rolling. The cause of death was trauma to the neck. There is no way to prove whether the neck trauma occurred before or during the roll. Leffler was wearing a head and neck restraint, which conformed to SFI 38.1. While Bridgeport Speedway's "Night of Wings" appears to be sanctioned by the track, Leffler's car had a World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series decal on the roof wing. He was also driving car #13 (not that we care about such things).

Randy LaJoie and Bill Simpson agree that Leffler's crash may have been survivable had he been wearing a wraparound headrest. While these are sometimes cited for reducing visibility, they do help stabilize the head in side-impacts. This seems like a reasonable modification that could save lives.

It has also been suggested that winged sprint cars have become too dangerous. I've investigated the matter and found that there are two schools of thought. People against wings note that higher speeds make crashes more violent. People for wings note that stability from downforce makes sprint cars less likely to crash. Without a few spare cars to crash, a crane, a wind tunnel, and the cast of "MythBusters;" there will be no consensus on the matter in the foreseeable future.

While being interviewed by USA Today, Dave Blaney expressed concern that sprint cars have gotten a lot faster recently with advances in engines, tires, and wings. This lead me to examine what the World of Outlaws' rulebook says about engines (as Leffler did have a WoO decal). To my surprise the rules relatively sparse; there is a maximum displacement, bore, number of valves, etc, but there is no limit on compression ratio, valve materials, valve diameter, port size, cam lift or duration, rocker arm ratios, etc. The rulebook for the USAC Sprint Car Series has the same rules almost verbatim. If sanctioning bodies want to make sprint cars slower, this is the place to start. I was astonished to learn sprint car teams were using titanium valves, and I don't see why they should be legal at that level of racing.

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