Originally created 08/19/04

Atlanta getting SAFER barriers



Installation of the new Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barrier walls at Atlanta Motor Speedway is scheduled to begin Sept. 7, in time for testing for the track's fall NASCAR race.

The project, headed Speedway Motorsports Inc. construction manager Randy Wray, will be completed at night to accommodate daytime track activities already scheduled. Working with the same crew that has already installed the SAFER walls at SMI's Lowes Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Wray estimates the project will take 2 1/2 to 3 weeks.

"Atlanta's going to be largest project we've done, as far as linear footage goes. It's about 1,000 feet more than any other track," Wray said. "That's based on the radius of the turns, which is a little bigger at Atlanta and requires a little more wall."

AMS will install about 7,450 linear feet of the SAFER barrier, which will cover about 75 percent of the speedway's outer walls. The barrier system will be placed outside all four turns, as well as inside the second turn.

The SAFER barrier system is made up of steel tubes and pads of hard foam, which are affixed to a speedway's concrete walls to absorb some of the energy during a crash.

Thirteen tracks that hold Cup races already have the barriers in place. Kansas City is also expected to have the barriers in place sometime this month, with Las Vegas to follow in September.

The short tracks in Bristol, Tenn., and Martinsville, Va., also will be fitted in the future.

The only tracks that will not have the barriers installed are Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen International, the only road courses on the NASCAR circuit.

RACE TO THE POLLS: NASCAR sponsor Nextel hopes to help get voters to the polls for the presidential election in November.

With that in mind, Nextel Communications is introducing "Race to the Polls," a nonpartisan voter registration program designed to encourage and mobilize NASCAR fans.

As part of the new program, Nextel will use its at-track fan attraction, The Nextel Experience, as well as onsite kiosks as hubs for voter registration booths. Fans will have access to voter registration forms through the Oct. 10 race at Kansas Speedway.

OLYMPIC FACES: Tony Stewart's No. 20 Chevrolet will have a special paint job for Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race in Michigan, featuring the faces of seven competitors from the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams in Athens.

The athletes pictured are weightlifter Tara Cunningham, javelin thrower Eria Wheeler, Paralympic swimmer Kirby Cote, volleyball player Jeff Nygaard and track and field participants Melissa Morrison and Mark Crear.

All of them are among 71 members of the U.S., Canadian and Puerto Rican Olympic and Paralympic teams who work part time at Home Depot, Stewart's sponsor.

The Olympic Job Opportunity Program allows Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls to work part time to accommodate their training and competition schedules while receiving full-time compensation and benefits to offset their expenses.

"These athletes have made a ton of sacrifices to get to the Olympics and this entire team is behind them 100 percent," Stewart said.

LAST SHOT: John Force will be looking over his shoulder this weekend at Memphis as he attempts to hold off Gary Densham for the top spot in the Sept. 5 NHRA Skoal Showdown.

The Showdown, which takes place during the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, pits the top eight drivers in points from qualifying over 23 races for a purse of $147,000, with $100,000 going to the winner.

Force, an 11-time NHRA champion and five-time Showdown winner, goes to Memphis with a 45-point lead over Densham. If Densham takes the No. 1 position in qualifying, Force would have to finish sixth or better to keep the lead.

In the first round of the Showdown, No. 1 takes on No. 8, while No. 2 runs against No 7, No. 3 against No. 6 and No. 4 against No. 5.

Going into qualifying at Memphis, Whit Bazemore is third, followed by Tony Pedregon, Gary Scelzi, Tim Wilkerson, Del Worsham and Phil Burkart Jr., who already has clinched the eighth position.

"This event means a lot to this race team, especially on the financial side," Pedregon said. "We have some big dogs in this field, but I think we earned our spot and I think we're as capable as any of these other teams to win this thing."