'HUMPY BUMPER' gets first crash test

Wednesday, August 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ A Winston Cup car specially fit with an energy-absorbing bumper is deliberately crashed into a wall. Instead of crumpling on impact, it bounces off and is only slightly damaged.

That's what happened Tuesday, when researchers tested the Humpy Bumper at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Initial projections deemed the crash a success, but the damage and data from a ``black box'' inside the car still must be analyzed.

Humpy Wheeler, president of the speedway, said he would meet with NASCAR next week to discuss the results.

``It's up to NASCAR from here,'' Wheeler said. ``They'll look at what we have and either say, `We like it, go ahead and start manufacturing it' or, `We'd like for you to look at it further with some more tests.'

``Ideally, they'll like it and we can get it on the cars as soon as possible.''

The Humpy Bumper is designed to address concerns about the rigidity of the front of stock cars and the lack of any sort of bumper to absorb the energy from a crash.

The stiffness in the cars has been an issue the past year because of the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Dale Earnhardt in wrecks.

The cars have grown increasingly rigid over the years because it allows crew chiefs to accurately make suspension settings. But some think the stiff front fails to reduce enough energy away from a driver.

The bumper was developed to address those concerns. It's made by Paul Lew, a Las Vegas-based composite materials engineer designer and manufacturer, and is designed to absorb the energy of 20 to 30-degree frontal impacts.

The black box, similar to those used in airplanes, records data to help understand the forces within the car.

To test the bumper, Lew crashed a driverless Winston Cup car by remote control into the turn 3 wall at Lowe's at a wall speed of about 40 mph.

In comparison, investigators believe Earnhardt was killed when his car hit the wall during the Daytona 500 with a wall speed somewhere between 40-45 mph. Although his car was actually traveling about 160 mph, the wall speed is based on the velocity and trajectory at which the car actually makes contact.

With the Humpy Bumper on the front of the car, it hit the wall on the right side, bounced off and slid down the track before coming to a stop near the inside wall.

Upon inspection, the bumper and front end sustained significant damage. But Busch series driver Randy LaJoie, present for the test, said the damage was much less than what he has seen on cars without the bumper.

``That was a good hit and normally that would have crumpled the floorboard,'' LaJoie said. ``It obviously didn't crumple or fold and that to me shows that it absorbed some of the G force.''

Lew said without the bumper, the damage to the car would have extended back to the firewall _ the wall that separates the engine from the cockpit. The damage to the tested car was limited to the front of the car.

Later, Lew showed videos from earlier tests on cars with and without the bumper.

The car without the bumper hit the wall and crumpled, it's rear tires jumping off the track as the front of the car folded like an accordion.

The car with the bumper had results similar to those of Tuesday's test, with the car bouncing off the wall after suffering front-end damage.

The data from those tests showed that the bumper reduced the G forces felt by the driver a minimum of 50 percent and increased the duration of the crash by as much as four times _ which lengthens the deceleration time and creates less stress on the driver's body.

LaJoie said he was convinced and would install the $6,000 bumpers on his cars as soon as NASCAR approves them.

``I don't care if NASCAR doesn't insist that we have it, but they shouldn't not let us have it,'' LaJoie said. ``That's the first time I've ever seen a car slam into a wall like that and suffer as little damage as it did. I don't know what a casket costs, but whatever those cost has got to be cheaper.''

NASCAR would have to approve the use of the bumpers before any drivers could install them on their cars.

Wheeler, who attended Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway, said many drivers approached him to ask how development on the bumper was coming and when it would be ready.

``No one knows the psychological impact of Dale Earnhardt's death on the drivers except the drivers and their wives,'' Wheeler said. ``They are very interested in making these cars safer.''