How did Ryan Newman survive such a crash? Former Daytona 500 winner talks lifesaving safety changes

From the SAFER Barriers to the driver’s ‘cocoon’

How did Ryan Newman survive such a crash? Former Daytona 500 winner talks lifesaving safety changes
Derrike Cope ran his first Cup race in 1982 and won the 1990 Daytona 500. (Source: David Whisenant-WBTV)

SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - The crash involving NASCAR driver Ryan Newman was one of the worst seen in recent years. Millions of fans across the country sat with phones in hand constantly refreshing Twitter for word on Newman’s condition.

“There was this feeling of loneliness, this feeling of I don’t know what’s going on, I feel on the outside, nobody is telling me what’s happening, and that went on for nearly two hours," said Doug Rice, the Lead Anchor of the Performance Racing Network based in Concord at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "But I did notice that inside of that, there was a positivity, everybody saying I’m praying for Ryan Newman, I’m thinking about Ryan and his family…even people that probably weren’t the biggest fans of Ryan Newman were pitching in on this last night and there was something kind of comforting about that in that sense.”

While leading the last lap of the Daytona 500, Newman’s car was struck from behind, it went airborne and was then hit in the driver’s door by another car at full speed. Ryan Newman was removed from the car and rushed to the hospital, and then last night we got word that the veteran driver’s injuries were not life threatening, though he in serious condition.

On Tuesday afternoon Newman’s team updated his condition, saying he was “awake and speaking with family and doctors.”

So how does a driver survive a crash so horrible? The answer lies in the research done following a crash to determine what made the lifesaving difference.

Derrike Cope drove his first Cup race in 1982, and 30 years ago won the Daytona 500. Now Cope is the owner of StarCom Racing on the Cup Circuit. The team facility is based in Salisbury.

On Tuesday he showed WBTV some of the changes that have helped safety to evolve for NASCAR drivers. He began with the driver’s compartment and the seat.

“This is actually a poured mechanism by BSCI which they actually put this foam in a paper bag, like a plastic bag and he sits down in it and they contour it around him," Cope said. "As you can see there’s vents that are in there, mounting points seat belts, a complete cocoon, it eliminates the side to side movement, and then with the Hans device you can’t really have too much stretching or movement going on inside.”

And beneath the skin of the car you’ll see one of the most recent and crucial components for driver safety. Cope says that may have played a big role in saving the life of Ryan Newman.

“There’s steel plating here...steel plating underneath the driver’s feet, and then all this steel plating here along the outside of the driver’s compartment," Cope added. "It puts the car at its most optimum not letting some sort of projectile or actual hit like we took at Daytona from penetrating to the driver.”

The car Ryan Newman was driving is now here in Concord at the NASCAR Research and Development facility where it will be dissected, knowledge gained to help drivers become even safer.

“This type of a wreck which was a very devastating type of wreck, with a head-on impact into the driver’s door, which is probably the most horrifying one that you’re going to see, but certainly one it sounds like it maintained the integrity of the cockpit area and he’s hurt, but hopefully not life-threatening," Cope said.

Derrike Cope said he drove his first Cup race in 1982, and that at that time, safety measures inside the car were pretty basic. Cope said that unfortunately, accidents can serve to show the way to much needed improvements.

“I think a perception of a death-defying driver you’re out there and you’re beating the odds on a weekly basis, and obviously after we had some deaths, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Jr., and obviously with Dale, it’s just escalated the fact to try to keep these guys safe." Cope said.

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