NASCAR Safety with Restrictor Plates

Imagine this, forty-three cars running one hundred and ninety miles per hour around an asphalt track, three and four cars wide, covering a span of about five hundred feet. One mistake by only one of these forty-three drivers and half the field could be gone due to a wreck. The reason for this type of racing is because NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, mandates the teams to have special aerodynamic rules and restrictor plates to slow the cars down on the superspeedway tracks such as Daytona and Talladega. CNN Sports Illustrated said that, “The plates slowed speeds, but now the cars are bunched in large groups, racing two and three wide” (CNN1). They go on to say that, “It makes for an exciting race, but some drivers feel it puts them in greater danger” (CNN 1). The easiest explanation of a restrictor plate is best given by Kevin Bonsor and Karim Nice from Marshall Brain’s How Stuff Works.com.

A restrictor plate is a square aluminum plate that has four holes drilled into it. Whole size is determined by NASCAR and varies between 0.875 inches and 1 inch (2.2 to 2.5 cm). Restrictor plates are placed between the carburetor and the intake manifold to reduce the flow of air and fuel into the engine’s combustion chamber, thus reducing horsepower and speed. Restrictor plates were implemented in 1988 following Bobby Allison’s crash into a retaining fence at 210 mph (338 kph), which endangered hundreds of fans. (Bonsor and Nice 6)

It has come to the point now where fans flock to watch the race with anticipation of “The Big Wreck.” The staff of Auto Week magazine wrote, “At Talladega, usually it’s coming off Turn Two, where the track funnels a bit. But with 30 or 40 cars running two-, three- and even four-wide for laps on end, the Big One is guaranteed to happen somewhere, sometime” (Auto Week 1) Racing should not be a sport of anticipation, spectators should not pay big money to go and see a race with the anticipation of a big wreck that would usually involve at least one fourth of the cars in the field. This was not the original intention of racing legends when racing was first started in the Carolinas. The restrictor plates are hurting the sport overall and also endangering drivers.

Jerry Bonkowski, who writes for ESPN tells us “NASCAR originally adopted the plates because of safety concerns that cars were going to fast at Daytona and Talladega”(2). He also goes on further to say, “When Bill Elliot clicked off that record run of 212.809 mph at Talladega nearly 15 years ago, NASCAR’s quick response was to find something, anything, to rob engines of their power” (2). NASCAR did this quickly without haste. NASCAR moved on and passed the restrictor plate rules, but they were only supposed to stay on the cars until a new method was found to slow the cars (Bonkowski). This shows that fourteen years later NASCAR still has done nothing to find an alternative way to slow down the cars.

When a group of cars are packed tight in a bunch it allows a car that is moderately good to run in with cars that have a better set up and would normally run much faster. In a since, “It allows a not so great car, to run with a great car.” This creates serious problems because the cars have such a hard time passing one another since them all, in essence, are the same. Bonkowski from ESPN says, “They make it harder for individual cars to pull out of an aerodynamic draft to pass others” (2). This of course leads to big problems as drivers get closer to the finish of the race and are desperately trying to advance their positions. With that many racers trying their best to advance themselves will inevitably lead to disaster. Once again, NASCAR was not designed for spectators just to wait for a huge wreck. All this is due to the restrictor plate.

Blocking has become a part of NASCAR since these racecar drivers must race under such conditions. This word was never heard of until these rules were implemented. Mark Bradley, who writes for the Atlanta Journal Constitution believes, “Blocking is a big deal in NASCAR, blocking being the polite term for the abject refusal to let another car pass” (1). Godwin Kelly, who is the Motor sports Editor for Speed Magazine, in an interview with Mike Helton, NASCAR president wrote:

It’s been part of the sport,” he said. “If it gets to the point where it’s counterproductive to the racing, then we’ll have to react to it. Blocking is as old as Daytona International Speedway. But if it’s coming to a point that it seems to be detrimental, then we’ll have to address it. (1)

This blocking may have been around a while but was never used often in a race due to the fact that if a racer could pass the car in front of him, then he was obviously faster than that vehicle. The new aerodynamics and restrictor plate allow this to not necessarily be true. A car in front of several others is breaking the air; the cars behind it are riding in a zone where there is little wind resistance. Those cars in essence are pushing the lead car faster, while picking up speed themselves the entire time. This was why several cars

Running nose to tail was much faster than a single car, until the new rule changes came about and ruined racing. Now cars run nose to tail in a line because they can’t use the draft to their advantage. Marty Smith, from Turner Sports Interactive, gives us this interview with Ward Burton after a restrictor plate race.

Example 1, Ward Burton: “I hope they’re proud of themselves. We came down here and tested. A lot of us learned something, but (NASCAR) didn’t learn anything. If this is racing, they can have it and I think everybody in the garage will say that. It’s ridiculous.” (1)

Smith also gives us another interview with Sterling Marlin, the current NASCAR Winston Cup Points leader.

Example 2, Sterling Marlin: “It ain’t the drivers, its NASCAR. You run it all day, you’re going to wreck. Every driver has been telling them in the NASCAR trailer that it’s going to happen. They wanted it to happen. (1)

These are strong words from veteran drivers that should not have to talk this way about a sport that they have grown up around all of their lives. This sport is their job and livelihood.

Here again it is easy to see that NASCAR has good intentions to begin with. They mandated restrictor plates to slow cars down to prevent injury and or deaths. Now the question is, Is NASCAR really helping or hurting the drivers? I think the answer is clear from all the evidence, even though NASCAR originally had good intentions, NASCAR is endangering drivers by making teams run the restrictor plate. It has led to big wrecks, which lead to hurt drivers, and some very expensive damaged machines.

Auto Week Magazine. “The Race Report.” Pg. 41 April 29, 2002 Lexis Nexis. May 2,

Bonkowski, Jerry. “Time for Plates to Go.” ESPN.com February 17, 2002

Bonsor, Kevin, Karim Nice. “How NASCAR Safety Works.” Marshall Brain’s How Stuff Works. May 2, 2002

Bradley, Mark. “Out of the Wrecks Emerge a Steal.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

February 18, 2002 “1” May 2, 2002

CNN Sports Illustrated. “Lashing Out, Earnhardt Blasts Restrictor Plates on Eve of Pepsi

400.” June 30, 2000 “1” May 2, 2002

Jenkins, Chris. “Speed a Source of Concern at Ultra-Fast Texas Track.” USA Today.com

Kelly, Godwin. “Earnhardt Jr.’s Day is Full of Stunts, but He’s Still Smiling.” Speed

Magazine. February 19, 2002 http://www.news-journalonline.com/2002/Feb/19/ CAR2.htm “1” May 2, 2002

Smith, Marty. “Drivers Dissatisfied with Restrictor-Plate Racing.” NASCAR.com

Bibliography:

Auto Week Magazine. “The Race Report.” Pg. 41 April 29, 2002 Lexis Nexis. May 2,

2002

Bonkowski, Jerry. “Time for Plates to Go.” ESPN.com February 17, 2002

“1” May 2, 2002

Bonsor, Kevin, Karim Nice. “How NASCAR Safety Works.” Marshall Brain’s How

Stuff Works. May 2, 2002

Bradley, Mark. “Out of the Wrecks Emerge a Steal.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

February 18, 2002 “1” May 2, 2002

CNN Sports Illustrated. “Lashing Out, Earnhardt Blasts Restrictor Plates on Eve of Pepsi

400.” June 30, 2000 “1” May 2, 2002

Kelly, Godwin. “Earnhardt Jr.’s Day is Full of Stunts, but He’s Still Smiling.” Speed

Magazine. February 19, 2002 http://www.news-journalonline.com/2002/Feb/19/ CAR2.htm “1” May 2, 2002

Smith, Marty. “Drivers Dissatisfied with Restrictor-Plate Racing.” NASCAR.com

October 22, 2001

“1” May 2, 2002

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

× How can I help you?