Concord, N.C. — Lowe's Motor Speedway, reacting to the on-track deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, has tested a new "soft wall" that could lessen the trauma on a driver when cars hit the retaining wall.
The soft wall is a block of plastic foam covered in cases made out of polyethylene the same kind of material used to make gasoline containers. The polyethylene is molded into a one-piece shell that is filled with a full foam core of the styrofoam.
The theory is that when a car hits the wall at high speed, it can absorb the blow and limit the collision's effects on the driver.
Petty and Irwin were killed this year when their cars hit the concrete wall at about 150 mph in separate accidents at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Lowe's Motor Speedway, which is considering using sections of the plastic foam on its retaining wall for its Oct. 8 race, tested the soft wall's effectiveness earlier this week by lifting a Cadillac 100 feet into the air then dropping it onto the wall.
By the time the 5,000-pound car hit the wall, it was estimated to be traveling at 60 mph.
The front end of the Cadillac was destroyed in the collision, but the driver's area appeared to be intact. Small chunks of the black casing surrounding the foam was dented and torn, but the wall was otherwise intact.
Track president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said it would take at least two days to analyze the data and determine how effective the wall was.
"We wanted to see what the impact was going to be on the foam, and it came out about what I thought," Wheeler said. "But it will be another two days before we know the full results because there's a lot of math, time, velocity and weight involved."
The wall is the creation of a Cellofoam, a Georgia company that was making the walls as floating boat docks. The walls were built to sustain the impact of a boat crashing into them, and company president John Johnson thought the product could also help at racetracks.