Josef Newgarden’s IndyCar whacked the outside wall twice while exiting the fourth turn Sunday in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, pushed into both bone-jarring shots by Conor Daly’s car. Newgarden’s initial contact was at somewhere over 200 miles per hour and the impact shredded the right side of his car. After the two cars slid off the wall, they collided again and Newgarden’s twisted in the air and slammed the driver compartment into the wall. The roll hoop, the last line of defense for Newgarden’s helmet, punched a hole in the SAFER Barrier’s two-inch thick polystyrene, a fancy word for foam. Newgarden’s head had been successfully protected from any damage ranging from a concussion to severe trauma that could have ended his promising career or even taken his life.
“Obviously, Josef’s hurt, but when you see the crash … it’s a miracle,” IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais said in a released statement.
Newgarden’s survival is a testament to the enormous research and investment in IndyCar safety in the past 20 years. Certainly, the Dallara safety cell—the chassis beneath the Chevrolet and Honda body work that delivers the IndyCar’s aerodynamics—played an important role in protecting him. But the greatest advance in safety is the SAFER Barrier, now a standard part at major league ovals and regularly saving IndyCar and NASCAR drivers from serious injuries.
The SAFER Barrier made the difference between Newgarden suffering a fractured right clavicle and a small fracture on his right hand in the Firestone 600 and the deaths of Scott Brayton in 1996 and Jovy Marcelo in 1992 during practice for the Indianapolis 500. In both fatalities, the driver’s heads hit the concrete walls. Brayton, the pole sitter in 1996, had run 228 miles per hour on the previous lap when he spun 180 degrees because of a rapidly deflating tire and hit the turn two wall. Marcelo had just done a warm-lap at 172 miles per hour when he hit left-front first in turn one.
Yes, head and neck restraint systems have come a long way in IndyCar racing during the past 20 years and the Verizon IndyCar Series mandates the highest FIA certifications. They played a role in keeping Newgarden’s shoulders, neck and head confined within the safety cell. But the initial diminishment of the impact caused by the SAFER Barriers was paramount.
Former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George has been reviled by many for founding the Indy Racing League, now rebranded IndyCar, that caused the infamous split with CART. But in 1998, it was George who began funding the SAFER—an acronym for Steel and Foam Energy Reduction—Barrier project with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility led by Dr. Dean Sicking. George’s IMS was the first to install the barriers in the corners at Indianapolis in 2002 and they’ve become standard safety equipment at IndyCar and NASCAR tracks nationally.
Daly was also protected by the SAFER Barrier, walking away unharmed. The crash was a racing incident, Daly losing control below Newgarden in turn four. They rode up to the wall together and Newgarden’s Chevrolet served as a buffer for Daly’s Honda. Both cars were destroyed.
“I didn’t even hit hard,” Daly said.
Newgarden was able to get on his feet upon being helped out of the car by the Holmatro Safety Team, but was visibly shaken and almost immediately fell to his knees. He was lifted on a stretcher into an ambulance, taken to the infield care center and airlifted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He was expected to be released on Sunday night according to IndyCar Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows.
IndyCar and his team, Ed Carpenter Racing, released this statement by Newgarden:
"Thank you to Dallara, INDYCAR, the Holmatro Safety Team and everyone we work with at Texas Motor Speedway. The car held up great and the response from the safety team was amazing. I'm banged up a little bit but I'm generally OK. That's all thanks to INDYCAR and all the work everyone within the series does. I am feeling a little pain but I hope to be ready to rock and go again soon. We had a great car today, it just did not go how we had planned. I feel bad for both Conor and myself but I'm glad Conor is OK as well. I'll be back out there fighting as soon as I can. Luckily I am all right, thank you again to everyone who helped me."
The race had been scheduled for Saturday night under the lights, but rain during the day left the track damp and ground water kept creeping up to the surface and was postponed to Sunday. It was delayed again for final track drying Sunday before taking the green flag at 1:49 p.m. local (Central) time.
The Newgarden/Daly crash happened on lap 42 and the remaining 29 laps were run under caution. The rain returned with 71 laps completed and brought out the red flag. The race was scheduled for 248 laps and, under IndyCar rules, 125—one over halfway—had to be completed for it to be an official race. The race, which will restart on lap 72, has been rescheduled for Aug. 27. James Hinchcliffe is the leader, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay.
It was a lost weekend for IndyCar in Fort Worth, but it wasn’t tragic. Newgarden, who won two races a year ago and at age 25 is one IndyCar’s brightest young stars, may miss some coming events, but his broken shoulder and right hand will heal and he should make a full recovery.
“It (Newgarden’s injuries) could have been a lot worse,” Carpenter said.
After running for five straight weekends, including Indy 500 qualifying, the series takes next weekend off. IndyCar’s next event is June 24-26 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. It will be the first Indy car event at the 4-mile road course since Champ Car ran there in 2007. It was a mainstay on the CART schedule from 1982 to 2003.