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Bumper Improvements Tested

UD Research Critical to Upcoming Test Crash of Humpy Bumper at Lowe's Motor Speedway

When a Winston Cup-style stock car hits the wall at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., on Aug. 28, a part of UD will be between the wall and the car -- and that's a good thing.

For several weeks this summer, University of Dayton Research Institute engineers Bob Brockman and Bill Braisted worked nights and weekends to analyze, test and suggest design improvements to the Humpy Bumper -- a lightweight, shock-absorbing device created by Lew Composites of Las Vegas in an effort to help save the lives of stock car drivers. The bumper, which has undergone computer-simulated and "sled" tests thus far, will be mounted on a Winston Cup-style car and tested in a live crash during a media conference currently set for Tuesday, Aug. 28, at Lowes Motor Speedway.

The bumper -- named for Lowes president and owner A.J. "Humpy" Wheeler -- was developed by Paul Lew, president of Lew Composites. Its creation was sparked by a casual conversation between the two men about the death of beloved NASCAR hero Dale Earnhardt and quickly evolved into a full-size prototype at Lew's factory, located at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As soon as the prototype was cast, Lew commissioned Brockman and Braisted to analyze the bumper, made of a lightweight composite that is hard yet energy-absorbing. "The bumper is designed to reduce g-load on the driver by absorbing some of the impact in a collision," Braisted said. "Because it's made of carbon fibers imbedded at varying angles within resin materials, the bumper will crimp and buckle over an elongated period of time, helping to absorb and divert some of the energy of impact before it gets to the driver."

Working to compress eight weeks’ worth of research into two, the engineers put the bumper through its paces in a virtual realm by feeding data on the bumper and crash specifics into a computer and generating reports on the bumper's performance during the simulated collisions. Then, with UDRI analyses in one hand and bumper in the other, Lew was off to General Motors in Detroit for test crashes of the bumper mounted on a test sled.

After Detroit the bumper was returned to UDRI for a final round of analysis and design improvement suggestions. "Initial tests have shown that the bumper will indeed substantially reduce g-load, which is great news," Braisted said. "We'd much rather see a bumper broken and mangled than a driver."

While plans are under way for the live crash in Charlotte, Brockman and Braisted await blueprints for a Winston Cup-style car. Armed with the exact specifications of the cars that actually run the circuit, the researchers will be able to analyze and predict not only the performance of the bumper but also the entire automobile during a variety of collision situations.

"I think that will be the time when we could have the most significant role yet," Brockman said. "Being able to analyze the complete system will allow us to suggest changes where they may be needed throughout, rather than just at the head of the car. I think the maximum potential for safety improvements will be achieved when the whole system works well together.

"Even if we didn't have the confidence we do in this particular device, I think what Paul Lew is doing has a chance to be part of a real solution to the safety problems that stock car drivers face," Brockman said. "We've been pleased to be a part of that potential solution."

Lew said he was referred to UDRI by an acquaintance at General Electric Co. who has also worked with the research institute. "I was told, and firmly believe now, that no one else in the world can match the crash-simulation capabilities of UDRI. This is a state-of-the-art facility."

August 21, 2001

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