Transcript: John Probst and John Patalak — Talladega Rule Changes

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody, for joining us this afternoon.  As you know we are joined by John Probst and John Patalak.  I do want to warn, there are no new announcements coming out of this teleconference.  The rules that we’re going to be discussing have been put out in a previous bulletin, the first one coming on May 1st.

            As we said at the time, we wanted to get back with this group before Talladega to walk through some of the things that we’ve learned coming out of the investigation into the 6 car at Daytona as well as some other changes that also have been made.

            One thing I would like to note is that due to the pandemic, we have not yet had the opportunity to have a full debrief with Roush Fenway and Ryan and the whole team.  While we have been working with them, we haven’t sat down with the full findings.  There may be something that we cannot yet get into details on, so please respect that.

            I think we’ll open up by going first to John Probst who can review some of the things that you can expect to see at Talladega.

            JOHN PROBST: Thank you.  While stockcar racing is inherently dangerous, our safety experts continue to make significant strides in this area.  Our work in safety is never complete.  We view that as an ongoing project for us and for all our competitors for that matter.

            Safety in general across our sport is not viewed as a competitive advantage.  When it comes to safety, the teams, engine builders, Goodyear, NASCAR, the OEMs all work tirelessly and openly in a cooperative manner to address all of our safety related initiatives.

            As mentioned, on May 1st we put out the first and probably the meatiest of the bulletins that were coming out largely in response to the events that took place at Daytona.

            I would say things got prettying challenging for us in checking all the typical boilerplate items that we do when releasing a technical bulletin, largely due to the pandemic.  Oftentimes before we release specifics, we have the teams actually mock‑up some of the things, which in this case we communicated with the teams, but with folks being locked out of their shops, some of the items took a little bit longer than we wanted them to to get documented and sent back out to the teams.

            We were also running tight on enough time to get those modifications made to the cars in time for the upcoming race at Talladega, which at that point with the schedule flux, we weren’t 100% sure when that would be.  Suffice it to say, we’ve been in a non‑typical mode of operation with respect to the release.

            Josh also mentioned we are intending to meet face‑to‑face not only with Ryan, which we actually have done on a couple of occasions ‑ John Patalak sat down with him and representatives of Roush ‑ but also with the rest of the drivers in our field and then also by extension some of the teams as well that they represent.  We feel it’s best face‑to‑face, which right now that’s relatively difficult for us to do.  We are feeding them information as we feel it necessary.

            When we get into the specifics of the bulletin we released, I’d say the topics in that bulletin largely fall into four buckets, all of which are in one way or another lessons learned from the 6 car.

            The first of which is slowing the cars down.

            The second bucket would be to reduce the likelihood of tandem drafting.

            The third bucket I have listed is sort of the car 6 investigation findings.  That’s as much meant to cover things that were seen on the actual investigation as we looked at the 6 car itself.  Some of those topics, if they’re on there, don’t necessarily mean there was an issue but may have drawn our attention to the importance of that particular part piece system working in the manner intended.

            Then also just cleaning up some of the emerging trends of development that may or may not affect some of the findings we found of systems we deem critical for safety but now also may have through just the course of development having other potential applications.  I’ll get to an example of that here in a bit.

            When you look at the goal of slowing the cars down, obviously the restriction from 59 64ths to 57 64th is an expected horsepower loss of somewhere between 35 and 40 horsepower, which general rule of thumb the teams use is 30 horsepower per second.  With the 40 horsepower, we’d expect the cars to slow down by over a second compared to what they would have run.

            As far as reducing the likelihood of tandem drafting, the elimination of the aero ducts at the superspeedway tracks were removed to try to mitigate the likelihood that cars could tandem draft.  Then also the reduction of the power would likely reduce the likelihood of tandem as well.

            With respect to the 6 car investigation findings going into Talladega, mandatory for superspeedways, optional everywhere else, with the addition of a number 20 bar and a number 21 bar.  These bars, located on the driver’s side, connecting the main roll hoop to either the rear down bars, which are the 13 bars, and also to the rear subframe.  The rear subframe bar also has a plate that was added, 85 thousandths of an inch thick.

            We also updated the roll bar padding applications.  That went into effect when we got back to racing.  It will go into effect in truck ‑‑ well, already did June 1st for Xfinity and truck.

            The key there is we didn’t really do anything but ensure that the existing roll bar padding as it can be purchased from all of the vendors is used in the form it is purchased and not modified in any way.

            We also added language for the oil reservoir tank and overflow expansion tank to have a check valve.  One of the items seen post incident was the fluid coming out of the trunk which was confirmed to be oil.  Those fixes are intended to mitigate the loss of oil in that situation when the car is upside down.

            We also from a slip tape standpoint require slip tape to be added to the rearward facing bumper surfaces from corner to corner.  The idea there would be if they are tandem drafting or bump‑drafting to minimize the ability of one car to upset the balance of another.  It won’t eliminate it, but should be a mitigating part.

            Then in the final bucket of cleaning up emerging trends of development, we’ve updated the window net and window net mounting.  One of the things that’s pretty key in the outcome of the 6 car’s wreck was the function of the window net.  We do see some early signs of the window net being used for aero, so the idea out of the bulletin is starting at Talladega to have a more uniform specification for the window net and the window net mounting.

            With that I’ll turn it over to John Patalak, who will get into some of the current state of the investigation regarding the 6 car.

            JOHN PATALAK:  Thank you.

            I’ll give a quick recap of the investigation, the NASCAR crash investigation process.  This begins at the track.  As we’ve talked about before, any time there’s an incident, whether the vehicle is driven or towed back to the garage, the NASCAR officials begin a crash investigation, which includes taking pictures outside of the vehicle as well as the driver area, looking at the driver’s restraint system and removing some of the equipment we have in the cars, like the incident data recorder, and our high‑speed video camera.  All of that information goes back and is uploaded to the NASCAR crash database.

            This process was followed for the 6 and the 32 cars at Daytona as well as the other vehicles involved in the crashes during that event.

            In this case both the 6 and the 32 were transported back to the R&D center where full inspections on both vehicles were complete.  The inspections included documenting, disassembling, examining all the pertinent parts of the vehicle systems, including the driver’s restraint systems.  All of this information that was found from those inspections was compared to the available data and video sources in order to create a step‑by‑step understanding of the crash sequence.

            During this process, as John mentioned, we met several times with Ryan and Roush here at the R&D center, worked with them and the industry to identify these updates that John has talked about.

            THE MODERATOR:  Thank you very much, gentlemen.  With that we’ll go ahead and open it up for media questions.


  1. With less horsepower and less likelihood to tandem draft, how does that keep the Ryan Newman wreck from happening?

            JOHN PATALAK:  Keep it from happening?  I think obviously when we go to superspeedways, as we said, any of our races, what we do is inherently dangerous.  Stopping a wreck from happening, that would be pretty difficult.

            I would say that slowing the cars down surely should and would help from an aero liftoff standpoint.  I would say our findings from the Ryan Newman crash, his liftoff was not due to an aero event but from him getting into the wall.  The idea there is reducing the speeds of the car, slowing them down.  We would expect speeds under the 200 mile‑an‑hour barrier here.  So from that standpoint slowing the cars down, keep from having as violent wrecks.

            Like I said, I mean, when the checkered flag is out for the Daytona 500, any of our races for that matter, the opportunity for accidents is high.  I think the changes you see here that we’ve put forward, it’s to ensure that once a chain of events like that are set into motion, we have all the safety mechanisms in place to mitigate the outcome, negative outcomes, I should say.


  1. There was some chatter that maybe you were going to change the spoiler size.  Was that looked at at all?  If it was, why was there no change?

            JOHN PROBST:  I think often when we look at things like this, everything is on the table.  Certainly spoiler changes were looked at.  I think the more direct knob and spoiler changes for us, the items that were under consideration were largely centered around slowing them down, which would usually mean a bigger spoiler.

            The spoiler that we have on there now is as tall as we can get them without putting significant bending moment on the deck lid to the point at which we’d be worried structurally.

            From that standpoint, getting larger wasn’t really a good option.  The more direct knob for us to turn to slow the cars down is directly to the horsepower.  So we have worked with the engine builders on this front.  The most direct way to slow them down is with horsepower.


  1. I know that NASCAR has had some issues in the past as far as policing racing at Daytona and Talladega.  After some of the accidents that we saw at Daytona, as they pertain to blocking or reckless driving, was there any consideration of potential rule changes, policing, blocking or anything else NASCAR declared to be wanton or reckless?

            JOHN PROBST:  I would say largely John and I focused more on the technical aspects of what we do here at NASCAR, not as much on the sporting/competition at‑the‑track type stuff.

            Most of the discussions we were in, obviously there’s talk of blocking by competitors and such, but as far as the conversations that we’ve been in, I don’t know those to have gone very far.


  1. With these significant rule changes going into Talladega, the first superspeedway race since Daytona, any thought you might give these guys a little practice before they get out there for the race?

            JOHN PROBST:  I think that’s a good question.  That was something we had discussed with the teams, initially had protected for in our schedule.  Working through the changes with our teams, I would say that we’re at the point now with a lot of the simulation that while these changes, when we list them out, may seem like a lot for the teams, it boils down to a lot of power and drag type things.  Having worked through it with them, we don’t feel right now we need to add any practice time to the Talladega schedule for this.


  1. In looking back at the video of the accident and the origin, the 12 car is behind the 6 car, hits him in the back bumper.  The idea of the slip tape, how might that have impacted that or a similar situation?  Would it impact what we saw with the initial contact?

            JOHN PROBST:  The thought behind the slip tape to the rear bumper, in the example you gave, when one car makes contact with the rear bumper of the other, there probably are two main ways for that to transmit a load into the bumper of the other car and destabilize it.

            One would be the friction between the nose of the car hitting and the tail of the car being hit.  The idea there is that the slip tape would mitigate that mechanism of load transfer, for lack of a better term.


  1. Is it almost like a SAFER barrier idea?  Am I way off on thinking that?

            JOHN PROBST:  I’m glad you clarified that.

            The way the slip tape works, it reduces the friction between the two surfaces.  It would also be like ice.  We’re trying to make the rear bumper of the car being hit like ice, where they slide across, don’t contact and start influencing the car in front laterally, left to right, if you will.


  1. Obviously I understand the high speed is going to create things.  The 6 car gets turned, goes into the wall.  In years past we’ve seen impacts.  This weekend a car hit the SAFER barrier, back end came up.  Anything about the way that the 6 hit after he got turned that raised particular concerns with hitting the wall at the angle he did, lifting the car up the way that it did?

            JOHN PATALAK:  Just to make sure I understand the question.  Did we have concern about the angle or the speed at which the contact was made with the SAFER barrier?


  1. When the 6 car got turned, he heads up toward the wall.  The impact is so severe that it causes the car to get airborne, further the crash.  This past weekend a car hit the inside barrier, you could see the back end come up.  Does that change what might happen as compared to what happened with the 6 car?  Does that make sense?

            JOHN PATALAK:  I think along the lines of John’s answer to one of the previous questions, in general, when we can slow the speeds down, it’s going to be of benefit for the crash itself, for the driver in the car.  It will also affect the loads on the vehicle and how the SAFER barrier responds.  Directionally it’s the right way to go.

            There were some other things happening with the 6 car as it approached the SAFER barrier.  It wasn’t in the banking, but there’s still banking present at that portion of the racetrack.

            As the car moved into the SAFER barrier, there was significant loading to the left side of the vehicle, which was due to the friction as the car was sliding.  That started that overturning moment you see in the video as the car leaves the wall.

            Those things put together ‑ speed that it approached the wall, the angle, the friction between the left side of the vehicle, tires, jack post ‑ all those things stack up leading to the series of events we saw occur.


  1. Is there anything that you looked at in terms of the SAFER barrier, how it responded?  Anything that needed to be considered how it performed or what more it could do?

            JOHN PROBST:  That’s a good question.  We consulted with University of Nebraska and shared data with them just to get their thoughts, make sure that we weren’t leaving anything on the table from a SAFER barrier design standpoint.  That analysis showed the SAFER barrier worked well.

            Looking at the response of the 6 car into the SAFER barrier, it was tolerated very well by the driver, more our typical crashes, what we’re used to seeing in cars in the SAFER barriers do, the outcomes we have there.

            We didn’t find anything in our investigation, with the consultation with the University of Nebraska, that there’s anything we would do to the SAFER barrier.


  1. With the changes to reduce the likelihood of the tandem draft, do you anticipate it eliminating it?  Once you guys come up with something, engineers are trying to find another way around it.  Is it something you feel you’re able to eliminate or something maybe teams can do for half a lap at Talladega as opposed to for a lap or two laps?

            JOHN PATALAK:  I would say that you hit the nail right on the head there.  Right here, right now, sitting here today, I would say that this should eliminate it.  I also know they will all be working to try and get back to some form of it.  I’ve done this long enough to know that I will not make any bold, blanket statements that would challenge them to prove me wrong.

            I think with the reduction in power, the aero ducts going away, that will make sort of a smaller hole, if you will, that should make it much more difficult to get into that configuration.


  1. After looking back at the data, what did you see was the biggest factor that kept Ryan Newman from being killed in that crash or being more seriously injured?

            JOHN PATALAK:  I think that’s a good question, something we spent a lot of time considering and looking at.  When we look at things as a whole, stepping back from the whole process, we really start to see the benefit of some of the rule changes that were implemented in the past.

            We had new roll bars added in 2013 to the roof and windshield.  That was of benefit to both vehicles, the 6 and the 32, in this crash.  We had new window net mounting structures required in 2013, as well as the laminate windshield.  Those also both benefited the cars.

            I think in 2015 we required all belts to seat, containment seats, with seven‑ or nine‑point restraints.  That was a big step.  Any time you have a car inverted, the driver’s weight, gravity is pulling against the seat belts.  Without that seventh point, that negative G belt, the driver’s body comes out of the seat more.  That was in place here.

            Probably the biggest takeaway from me, looking at it all together, was the enhanced vehicle chassis.  That was mandatory at Daytona and Talladega starting in 2016, everywhere else starting last year.

            When you really look at the two vehicles, how they interacted, the severity and the orientation of it all put together, those couple things really stood out as highlights to the outcome that we had.


  1. When you’re talking about the roll bar, there’s the Newman bar and Earnhardt bar.

            JOHN PATALAK:  The Earnhardt bar existed before this update.  What was added is referred to as the 12A bar, center roof support bar.  That was similar to one of those bars that helps support the roof.


  1. When you’re looking at the incident data recorder, what data is that tracking?

            JOHN PATALAK:  So the incident data recorder, the IDR, records acceleration in three axes.  We have our X, Y and Z directions, front to back, left to right, and Z is up and down.  It gives us a time history of the acceleration during a crash.  It records it 10,000 samples per second.

            We also have a high‑speed camera, onboard camera, that is synchronized with the IDR.  That is focused on the driver.  It records video when the data recorder senses a crash is occurring.


  1. Are both of those placed on the driver side?

            JOHN PATALAK:  The IDR is attached to the left mainframe rail, the upper left, which is right by the driver’s left knee.  The high‑speed video camera is mounted on one of those roof support bars we were referring to.  It gives you kind of a view, if you placed a camera in what would be a glove box area, looking back at the driver, it gives you that type of view.


  1. You mentioned horsepower would be reduced by about 35 to 40.  What is the general total horsepower number that you’re expecting for this race?

            JOHN PROBST:  550 is our normal.  Somewhere around 500.


  1. You also said speeds below 200 miles an hour expected.  For the foreseeable future, are you anticipating races at Daytona and Talladega you’ll stay under 200?

            JOHN PROBST:  I can’t say that 200 is a magic number by any means.  As you pointed out, we have had races where we exceed that.  Certainly it seems like in practice in particular at Talladega when they’re able to form a single line, not have to worry about protecting positions, speeds can sometimes be higher than what we see in the race.

            But certainly if we get up in that 205, 206, 207 kind of range, that’s generally where you start seeing us looking at ways to slow the cars down.


  1. The bars that were added to the chassis, I assume that’s to eliminate what Newman said about the car crushing on him?  Why weren’t those bars in there before?  Was there something about this accident that showed something that other accidents hadn’t shown before?

            JOHN PROBST:  I think we’ll tag team this one a little bit.

            I would say as we designed these cars, we try to take into account all of the crash modes that we have seen over the history of what we’ve done, which now I think exceeds over 2,000 recordable events since 2011 on the IDR.  I think the ways of getting these cars into accidents is almost infinite.

            I think when we see instances like this where we actually had three crashes, we had him getting into the wall, which was a substantial event by itself, him getting on his roof, impacted by the 32, which was a substantial event, that put him airborne, then he landed again on his roof.  A lot of these things are almost impossible to role play out as we’re designing cars.

            I think as we said before, safety is a never‑ending journey for us as we see things like this that come up that we weren’t able to predict.  We do react and apply more safety to the cars.

            If we could today with a crystal ball know how every car is going to wreck between now and eternity, I would do everything in my power to try to prevent it.


  1. Were those bars just not there for a reason?

            JOHN PROBST:  No.


  1. Do you know whether Newman suffered his head injury on the first impact or the second impact?

            JOHN PROBST:  That would be back to the details.  We’re not willing to release those right now.  We’d like to talk to them first, the teams.

            THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody, for joining us this afternoon.