PRUETT: Our safety heroes in Nomex

Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

PRUETT: Our safety heroes in Nomex

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Our safety heroes in Nomex


Some might not know AMR Safety Team was involved from the aeroscreen’s first conceptual stages. The width and height of the aeroscreen was dictated by the dimensions of the backboard needed to extricate an injured driver. Fastening methods between the aeroscreen and chassis were changed at Baughman’s request to make the unbolting process faster.

Ongoing development of cutting tools to open portals in the polycarbonate screen and the titanium halo, if necessary, feature in the handheld equipment that could be put to use in today’s race. Beyond the immediate response they offer to IndyCar drivers, the team keeps busy behind the scenes looking for advancements in the same way teams are constantly searching for an edge to make the cars faster and more efficient.

“They gave me samples of the titanium — we cut it with our hydraulic cutters from Holmatro, and I’m telling you, it’s the toughest mother out there,” Baughman said. “Trying to cut through that halo material actually helped Holmatro to design their next line of tools that we have on our trucks. Everything was hydraulic tools, but now, we’re switching to batteries. They’re hydraulic, but they’re battery-driven. So you don’t have a pump and all those hoses and everything to drag around.

“These are all self-contained, a battery unit and a pump — you can just walk away and go to go to work with it. You’re not carrying all the other equipment that we’ve had to for all these years anyway. But with the introduction of electricity to the unit, they’re able to put sensors in the blades. Those sensors can actually sense the cutting force and actually decrease it or increase the speed based on what it’s sensing. So in those first titanium tests, we destroyed the blades and it took about 11 seconds to make a cut. We tested cutting about four months ago with this new tool, same blade, same hydraulic cylinder, but now with electronic components and sensors, and it cut it in eight seconds. And it didn’t damage the blades like it did before. That’s all because racing helped to develop better rescue stuff.

“PPG gave us a bunch of the screen blanks so that we could practice cutting and making sure we had the right blade and we’ve trained on them, making thousands of cuts.”

Along with its protection from debris, the Safety Team’s testing has shown the aero screen to offer an effective fire barrier. Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

Through the use of a blowtorch and an infrared camera, IndyCar’s curious safety group learned PPG’s thick screen has the ability to act as a barrier for an external fire.

“As a firefighter, I wanted to find out how long it would take to melt with a direct torch on it,” Baughman said. “We got to over 1000 degrees. It took almost a minute for the direct torch over 1000 degrees to melt a hole in the polycarbonate screen. We saw how being on the other side of the fire with the screen there helped.”

These are our safety heroes in Nomex. They excel at their craft, amid danger, amid near fatalities and even when the saddest outcomes are laid bare in front of their eyes, because they hold each other to meet an unwavering level of excellence.

The 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 will feature 22 men and women on pit lane, in race control, and mostly in those safety trucks. One truck’s even painted in honor of Carl Horton, the founder of IndyCar’s first traveling safety team who recently passed. As you cheer our 33 brave drivers on Sunday, please share the same energy and love for our specialized first responders. They always deserve it, yet rarely receive it. They are the drivers’ heroes, and if we’re fortunate, they’ll have nothing more than Code 01s to handle.

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