Published: April 3, 2020 8:57:00 am
The interruption to the 2020 NASCAR season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been understandably disappointing and disconcerting for racers, fans, teams and the industry as a whole.
But instead of completely retreating during this time of general uncertainty, NASCAR and the racing industry responded immediately to help make a life-saving difference.
The NASCAR Research & Development Center, located outside Charlotte, N.C., has turned its high-tech capabilities into real life medical assistance — manufacturing face shields with its 3D printers and even a prototype human head that Wake Forest doctors and scientists are using to research better treatment supply options.
CORE Autosport, a team in IMSA’s WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, is similarly committed to helping out. Its team shop is manufacturing thousands of facemasks for distribution across the country.
Technique Inc., a Michigan-based company that normally supplies chassis components to NASCAR teams, is making face shields for medical distribution and has ramped up production to 20,000 per day.
Roush Fenway Racing has developed a special prototype “transport box” that helps provide a safe, workable barrier between a COVID-19 patient and the many medical personnel treating them in hospital rooms and transporting them on hospital floors.
When it comes to innovation, rapid response and answering the call, the sport of NASCAR is all in.
“I think NASCAR is in a unique position across the industry and especially at the Cup level where you have some of the best fabricators and engineers in the world and we have all this capability to make all these parts for cars, parts for testing so you have a high talent pool and then you have the machinery and the people needed to kinda do all this now,” said Eric Jacuzzi, senior director of aerodynamics at the NASCAR R&D Center.
“That’s what really puts us in a unique spot to be able to help out.”
Unlike any other major sports, the very essence of NASCAR racing involves cutting edge technology conducted — literally — by rocket scientists, engineers and tech geniuses who would normally be putting their minds around new racing innovations. Instead of making cars go faster, they are now helping a nation try to manage a historic global medical pandemic.
“Sitting at home for a day or two is great, but I think most people are starting to look at what they can do,” Jacuzzi said. “And the crew we have here working on this stuff is all volunteer. People are volunteering to come here at nine o’clock at night and stay until midnight — all different types of departments. It helps having people do that and even people are taking some parts home and having their teenage children help with cutting things out. So it’s even giving students at home right now the opportunity to contribute.”
“We’re used to working hard and being on the go all the time so it’s a big adjustment for us to kind of have this pause. But this is helping us keep going and really just from an education side, more people are learning about how to run these machines and all that so it’s good for everyone to feel like they are contributing and helping out and they certainly are.”
At the NASCAR R&D Center, Jacuzzi said the idea to mass produce the face shields came from a random homeowners’ association post on a Facebook page.
It was a similarly random connection for Roush Fenway Racing, according to the Roush team’s Operations Director, Tommy Wheeler. Dr. Brian Talenk, the brother-in-law of Roush’s Simulation Director Marcus Marty, reached out to see if Roush had the capability to help both conceptualize and manufacture a device that would provide another line of defense for the medical professionals treating virus patients.
“I said, ‘Yes, of course we can. Let’s do this now,’” Wheeler recalled.
“That was around lunchtime (last Thursday) so we mobilized here so we could make some prototypes, which we did that afternoon and got them delivered to Brian (Dr. Talenk) to see if they worked.
“What ensued from there was a round of tweaks and things that the doctors and such wanted. He started sending pictures and discussing with his network of physicians and anesthesiologists around the greater Charlotte area. We then did approximately three more prototypes and by Friday — a day later which I’m pretty proud of — we were online with what we call our Version 2 Box.
“They were impressed by that (timing).”
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