If somebody is going to pay for a membership to a private motorsport club, they expect the facilities to be as safe as possible. That’s why The Thermal Club is installing state of the art barriers on each of its tracks.
Located in Palm Springs, Calif., The Thermal Club is one of the most well-known private motorsport clubs in the U.S. Thermal currently has two tracks — the North and South Palm Circuits — and is set to open its third, called the Desert Circuit, in January.
To ensure the safety of its members on all three tracks, Thermal worked with Massachusetts-based Impact Safety Systems to install state of the art barriers wherever necessary. ISS’s barriers are comprised of interconnected plastic-composite structures, which are filled with 200 to 300 pounds of water, and shaped in such a way that they dissipate the force from a crash.
RJ Valentine founded ISS in 2000 when he was looking for a safe product to use for barriers at F1 Boston.
“I owned karting facilities here in (Braintree, Mass.), Bridgewater, Mass., and then New Jersey and I started off with go-kart barriers, because all you have are hay bales and tires,” Valentine told NESN Fuel. “We had broken arms, you know, and broken legs. If you get two, three or four sets of tires, and you hit them without any protection, then you have a problem. So I decided I was going to change that.”
A racer himself, Valentine said traditional Armco barriers and concrete walls don’t have enough give, and tires are dangerous because they can scatter. While he said newer tracks are more willing to spend money to improve safety, there are still some that are resistant to it.
“There are some tracks out there that don’t want to spend the money, but they’re not the people driving the cars,” Valentine said. “And that’s the problem. If you understand racing, you know, it’s just one of those things people don’t react to.”
He isn’t exaggerating, either.
While well-known tracks — both road courses and speedways — are usually early adopters of safety innovations, the majority of short tracks aren’t as quick to change. Shortly after Kevin Ward Jr.’s death in 2014, The Charlotte Observer reported that roughly 70 percent of racing deaths in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014 occurred at short tracks.
ISS might be able to buck this trend as its product is less costly, easier to install and easier to maintain than rudimentary tire barriers.
“It’s a plug-and-play,” Valentine said. “You pull the pins, put a new barrier in and the water truck comes by to put more water in it. You can do that in five or 10 minutes, whereas with tires, if they’re scattered, could take an hour, two hours or three hours.”
Valentine emphasized his company recommends using ISS barriers in conjunction with Armcos or concrete walls, rather than as an alternative.
“We don’t tell them not to put concrete in. We just tell them that you have to buffer it; You have to have a soft landing.”
As a result of this “soft landing,” Thermal said it has seen the barriers take some heavy impacts, which resulted in minimal damage to the car, and less-severe injuries to the driver.
Thumbnail photo via The Thermal Club