Foreign Object Debris (FOD) isn’t just an inconvenience for competitors in NASCAR and Formula One racing, it’s a major safety threat that can cause tragic accidents. Quick and thorough removal of FOD from racetracks allows races to avoid delays and prevents damage to expensive vehicles and injuries to drivers, crew members, and spectators.
The average NASCAR vehicle costs between $125,000-$150,000, and maintenance, fuel, and fees easily cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Formula 1 vehicles cost even more, with the average cost per vehicle easily being millions of dollars. It only stands to reason that the owners and drivers of these vehicles want to keep them in the best condition possible.
Avoiding crashes helps racing vehicle owners avoid hefty repair and replacement costs. As debris on the roadway can contribute to wrecks, it’s important for racetrack owners to use FOD control best practices to remove FOD from their tracks as soon as they can.
Formula 1 Component Costs
FOD is considered any object, particle, substance, debris, or agent that is in an inappropriate area. FOD is a big problem for many industries. For example, in aviation, FOD can cause damage to airplanes and even cause crashes. Airlines spend millions each year on maintenance and repair issues related to FOD. In industrial environments, FOD can contaminate products and cause accidents and injuries.
In racing, foreign object debris poses a number of threats. Racing vehicles are traveling at high speeds, and a collision with even small pieces of debris can result in damage to the vehicle. Common parts of an automobile susceptible to damage from FOD include the tires and engine.
When vehicles collide with debris on the racetrack, it may also cause their drivers to lose control, contributing to a crash. Flying debris kicked up by vehicles may also strike and injure crew members and spectators seated nearby. The bottom line is that FOD puts racetrack facilities at huge risk for costly damage, injury, and legal liability.
Leading types of racetrack FOD include:
- Carbon fiber components – Modern Formula 1 vehicles and other racers have many components made from carbon fiber, such as wings and other aerodynamic appendages. When vehicles hit each other or other objects, sharp pieces of carbon fiber often fly off, littering the track and creating a hazard.
- Tire debris – Because of the very high rate of speed at which they’re traveling, and the extended amount of time they’re traveling, race car tires wear down a lot faster than passenger vehicle tires. Bits of rubber can quickly become scattered all over the track, creating a crash hazard as well as a threat to car components.
- Gravel – Racetracks deteriorate, over time, as dozens of cars travel around them at high speeds. Gravel kicked up by vehicles can cause hazards for automobiles. It can strike components of the vehicle, damaging them. Gravel debris can also strike cockpits of vehicles, distracting drivers or even causing injury if it penetrates the cockpit.
NASCAR has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward policing FOD on its race tracks. A 2015 report found that NASCAR tripled the number of debris cautions it issues during races since 2005. In 2000, NASCAR typically threw about .4 debris cautions per race. In 2015, NASCAR issued about two cautions per race. This is part of a larger trend toward increasing safety requirements that’s been underway in the sport for several years.
NASCAR and other racing organizations typically have spotters monitoring races. These spotters will issue cautions when FOD control efforts are needed. While cautions are frustrating to drivers and spectators alike, they’re absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of drivers, crew, and spectators.
Formula 1 Racing
Formula 1 Racing is the very pinnacle of motorsports. It’s also very expensive. According to Forbes, the cost of hosting a Grand Prix race is around $57.5 million. That includes $16 million for staffing, $6.5 million for marketing, $14 million for renting grandstands, $8 million for setting up security fences and posts, and millions in other fees, including $1 million for insurance.
That doesn’t include the cost of the vehicles themselves, which is borne by racing companies. Debris poses a significant threat to the expensive vehicles fielded by Formula 1 teams, making FOD control an important issue for the industry. As F1 drivers race in open cockpit vehicles, debris also poses a huge personal safety risk for them.
In 2009, Felipe Massa was seriously injured when he was struck by a suspension spring that had fallen from another driver’s vehicle during the Hungarian Grand Prix. The spring struck Massa in the helmet, and Massa then crashed into a tire barrier. The incident caused life-threatening injuries to Massa, and he had to be fitted with a titanium plate in his skull. Massa’s injuries removed him from racing for the remainder of the season, but he returned the following year.
Tire maker Pirelli recently determined that a dramatic crash involving driver Sebastian Vettel at a race in Australia in 2016 resulted from an item of debris. The tire maker conducted the investigation to determine whether a flaw in its product caused the crash. The investigation determined that the tire had no sign of structural fatigue or failure, and that the crash was caused by an item of debris which caused the breakage of a tire.
Foreign object debris is even a problem for the relatively low-speed sport of go-kart racing. Tires, parts, and gravel can damage engines, and drivers of go-karts are at risk as they are often driving in an open-air cabin. As many recreation centers have go-kart racing for teens and young adults, these businesses will want to do everything in their power to ensure the safety of their guests. For large-scale go-kart racing tracks and recreational facilities, monitoring the track for FOD and removing it quickly is important to ensuring driver safety and preventing delays.
A Specialized Solution
Racetracks have individual features that make their foreign object debris different than that typically found at airports, making a different FOD solution necessary. Aerosweep has developed a version of its FOD BOSS device specifically for racetracks, automobile testing and proving grounds, and related facilities. The FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEP closely resembles the FOD BOSS but has a modified design to improve its ability to pick up gravel, rubber, and car parts.
The FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEP resembles a mat towed behind a pickup truck or other motorized vehicle. The underside of the mat has brushes and scoops that help pick up debris from surfaces the mat travels over.
The FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEP comes in single, duplex, and triple versions. The triplex version will cover a seven-meter width of track. The duplex model covers 4.8 meters in width. The single model covers 2.4 meters in depth. The device can be pulled behind a vehicle at up to 40 mph.
Connected to a pickup truck or other vehicle, the FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEP can clear a track of debris in a manner of minutes, allowing racers to safely resume their activities. The device has an excellent track record of success, picking up 90 percent or more of debris. FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEPs are also highly durable, and a single product will endure many uses.
Aerosweep developed the FOD BOSS in the 1990s and has spent the decades since perfecting this versatile product. Track facilities managers concerned about FOD should explore what FOD BOSS TRACK SWEEP can do for their facility.