The grand experiment – weather notwithstanding – appears to have been a success for NASCAR. As many expected, Bristol Motor Speedway has already announced that the dirt surface will return to the 0.533-mile high-banked oval in 2022.
And when they come back next spring, the Cup cars and the Camping World trucks will still have windshields on them. It’s not because NASCAR doesn’t understand dirt track racing, but rather because removing the windshields would require a complete re-engineering of their racecars and trucks.
Beginning with the Generation 5 racecar in 2007 – which incorporated all of the safety changes following the death of Dale Earnhardt and then some – the windshield became an integral part of the NASCAR safety system. To cut the story short, the roll cage can’t do its job effectively without the windshield in place (with help from the “Earnhardt Bar,” it prevents the front of the roof from caving in).
Everyone who has seen how the 2020 Daytona 500 ended for Ryan Newman knows just how important the roll cage is for these cars, even on a “short track” like Bristol. And for those who need a refresher:
With the Generation 7 racecar coming next season, the windshield will be just as integrated into the complete safety setup, if not more so.
NASCAR windshields are made of an unusual material known as polycarbonate – commercially marketed as Lexan – which is simultaneously durable and yet soft. You can fire bricks at it at 100 mph and it will never shatter, but you could write your name in a sheet of it with just your fingernails.
To overcome the softness issue while maintaining the safety integrity of the windshield material, NASCAR teams are required to start the race with seven layers of tear-offs. These are made of a material simply known by its maker as “Industrial Protective Film” that is harder than Lexan, but clear as glass.
The move has been so effective that now the military – which uses Lexan for the windows on most vehicles and aircraft canopies – has turned to using IPF tear-offs, too.
Since the death of Dale Sr., there have been literally dozens of horrific crashes in NASCAR’s three main divisions – but zero fatalities. That’s a statistic the sanctioning body is keen to maintain, for very understandable reasons, which is why it now refuses to compromise on safety. And that’s why windshields will never come off their cars, even for a dirt race.
So, when a very wet track – according to the National Weather Service, Bristol Motor Speedway (it has its own weather monitoring station) received roughly 2.5 inches of rain the night before – turned into a mud bog, there was no way to just “pack it in” and make it racy. For the record, BMS officials did try to pack it in by running the crate late models “support division” (come on, sportmod racers, you know that made you smile) to try to dry it up.
But, as the immediate red flag after just one lap of the truck race made it clear (click HERE for the video), it just wasn’t going to be possible to race.
Still, several of you out there thought it could still be done if they just took the windshields off. And while I probably wouldn’t use exactly the same language, I wholeheartedly agree with what Kenny Wallace had to say about it (click HERE for the video).
The Hermanator later clarified his remarks and threw in some support for the eventual removal of windshields for future dirt Cup races (click HERE for the video). Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports seems to think removing the windshields, paired with moving the races to nighttime only, will solve many of the problems with dust, dirt, and mud, too.
But unless they plan to add more dirt races for 2022 (I highly doubt it), I just don’t see NASCAR doing it – mainly due to the cost associated with not only building two cars (primary and backup) for just one race, but also for the hundreds of man-hours of safety engineering it would require to remove the windshields.
No, it’s not really dirt-track racing. But it was never meant to be. Want to make it a real dirt-track race with NASCAR racers? Pick a dirt racing division and put the Cup guys in one of those kinds of cars for a night, or even a full weekend, of racing action.
Bottom line: my recommendation is that you just sit back and enjoy this opportunity for dirt track racing to be nationally relevant and gain even more popularity. Or, as my kids like to say: “You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.” We’ll all be better for it.
I thank you all again for doing what you do, which allows me to do what I do.
(Photo by Chris Graythen of Getty Images [via NASCAR Media])
Bob Eschliman is publisher-editor of Iowa Racing News. He’s an award-winning professional journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering dirt track racing – and more than 40 years’ experience watching fast cars make slide jobs for the win. His email address is email@example.com. For more news and information that “covers the Iowa dirt track scene,” visit www.iowaracingnews.com.