Wings & Things

          March 2010                                     Dale Wilkerson

                During Speedweeks at Daytona last month, a reporter asked Tony Stewart if he thought more fans would attend NASCAR events if there was more danger involved for the drivers. The question angered the two-time champion, a driver that has been involved in two blow-over crashes during his career. After Carl Edwards only received a scant three race probation for his actions at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, perhaps NASCAR agrees with that reporter. 

            Racecar drivers react like a pack of wild hogs. When it looks like the buffet line has just opened, they all change directions. If the only penalty for rough driving is going to be a short probation period and a black flag during the race when you retaliate, Bristol and Martinsville may look more like the bumper car ride at the county fair. Still what bothers me from Atlanta, is how close Keselowski was to getting into the fence.

            For the most part, all talk of the lack of disciplinary action against Edwards has left the front pages. The only items people want to talk about are that cars air getting air-borne and the wing is the problem. Really now?

            There have been no less than three dozen blow-over type crashes in NASCAR since the early eighties. I remember watching races back then, I have historical racing books, and I am yet to find a picture of a Buick Regal or LaSabre, or a Ford Thunderbird or a Taurus, or an Oldsmobile Cutlass, or a Pontiac Grand Prix, or a Chevrolet Lumina, Nova or Monte Carlo, that had a wing on it before or after it took flight in a blow-over crash.

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Ward Burton has a blow-over crash during the July 1995 Nationwide Series event at Talladega.

            A blow-over crash is when a racecar is lifted off the ground after spinning around at full speed. This phenomenon has even taking place in drag racing, where the cars have larger rear spoilers than NASCAR has ever used. Some folks believe that a rear air-dam, mounted below the rear-bumper, would direct air around the car when it turned around, but one has never been used during a race in NASCAR.

            Most fans seemed very surprised that Keselowski’s car took off at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Yes most of these blow-over crashes have taken place at Daytona and Talladega, but there have been similar crashes at smaller speedways over the years.

            In 1992, after contact from Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison received a broken arm after his Robert Yates Thunderbird became air-borne on the short-shute at Pocono. The blow-over caused the #28 Ford to flip wildly numerous times.

            Just a year later, during a Busch race at Michigan, Johnny Benson, driving a Chevrolet Lumina, spun off of turn two, the car lifted off the ground and floated for a while before it barrel rolled a dozen times.

            Back up a few more years to a Busch race at Charlotte in 1987. Geoff Bodine was tapped by a lapped car near the start-finish line. His Robert Gee prepared Chevy Nova lifted off the ground from a blow-over flip resulting in a long slide, on his roof followed by a couple of barrel rolls before coming to a stop near turn one.

            These three examples happened on tracks ranging from a mile and half to two miles and half. Pocono is the same length as Daytona, but due to its triangular configuration and little to no banking it the corners, the overall lap speeds are slower.  Allison’s car was running around 170-mph when the wreck started.

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Elliott Sadler takes flight at Talladega, Sadler had two blow-overs while driving for Robert Yates racing.

            Other drivers that have suffered a blow-over crash include the following from Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and the now defunct IROC series: Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Bill Elliott, Neil Bonnett, Rick Crawford, Todd Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, Jeff Green, Rick Mast, Ward Burton, Ricky Rudd, Cale Yarborough, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Randy LaJoie, Rusty Wallace, Trevor Boys, Steve Kinser, Rodney Howard, Michael Waltrip, Casey Atwood and Elliott Sadler. This list is not complete, and I did not include any ARCA crashes.

            Most of these were during races, but Dale Earnhardt had his blow-over during a testing session at Daytona. Rick Crawford took flight in his truck, actually flipping all the way over, landing up-right and continuing in the race. Bill Elliott did not completely flip when his car took off due to a blow-over, but the car went so high in the air, the landing broke Elliott’s hip.

            After reading those names, you realize the majority happened before the wings were installed on the current racecars. Wings were used on Chrysler products during the 1969 and 1970 seasons. The Hemi-powered Dodge Daytona’s and Plymouth Superbird’s came from the factory with a huge wing that towered some three feet above the rear deck lid.

            “We had those big wings and we never had a car take off like they do now. Baker spun out at Talladega at 200-mph in the tri-oval and the car never offered to lift off the ground,” said Cotton Owens during the Legends Segment on Droppin’ the Hammer last Saturday. Owens was joined on the show by Bud Moore who has a solution to the blow-over problem.

            “The location of the wing is part of the problem, the way it hangs out over the back of the car. I would like to see NASCAR go back to a spoiler but have it spring loaded, so when the car gets turn around, the spoiler would fold down and allow the air to flow over the car, instead of picking it up,” said Bud Moore.

            As NASCAR sends engineers to the wind tunnel to look for solutions, perhaps the Mopar wing should be installed to see if it works to keep a car on the ground. If the wing was mounted flush with the back of the car, and had more clearance from the deck lid, it will be more effective in keeping cars on the ground. Chrysler tested many configurations before settling on the big wing, and that wing was stock equipment.

During the Chrysler test, several different wing configurations were used before the Dodge Daytona was sent to the speedway.  google images

            Blow-over crashes have been a problem for almost 30 years. Restrictor plates where the first attempt to stop this phenomenon, and Richard Petty showed the world that the plates where not the answer with his 1988 blow-over crash at Daytona. Roof-flaps where installed after Davey Allison’s Pocono crash and results have been mixed. The wings have been used at all speedways since 2007, and now they are considered the root of all evil when it comes to blow-over crashes.

            If spoilers are installed, and that is the only change, history shows us that NASCAR race vehicles will take flight with a spoiler on the deck lid when the vehicle gets spun around at high speed. I just wonder if the television guys will act like they have never seen a car have a blow-over flip with a spoiler. I hope we never see another blow-over crash, but after 30 years of blow-over crashes, perhaps we should look deeper for a solution to the problem.

            As speeds continue to climb on the intermediate tracks, like Atlanta, Charlotte, Texas, Michigan, Las Vegas and Kansas, it may be time for NASCAR to look under the hood for the solution if wings and spoilers can not get the job done.