SAFER SAFETY STAGES, AND THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES – PART TWO

KEVIN FORBES, Director for Engineering and Construction at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, won’t take any individual credit for all the safety innovations installed or put into practice at the 100-year old race track. He said “It’s a team effort. Diverse resources and diverse thought processes look at problems with different thoughts, which are explored to the fullest. It’s a wonderful experience to be part of a collaborative effort. There are so many people involved in making the sport safer for everyone.”

Forbes is a little hesitant, and somewhat cautious in looking at the next improvement. He said “We need to ensure we’re not breaking the law of unintended consequences. An infinitesimal change can be catastrophic.”

According to Wikipedia, the law of unintended consequences (law of unforeseen consequences) states that any purposeful action will produce some unintended consequences. The maxim is not a scientific law, but rather more like Murphy’s law. Otherwise put, the actions of people always have effects which are unanticipated or unintended.

Forbes said “In making changes, we have to be deliberate and careful. Every time we repave the track, we try to make it smoother, with better friction, quicker drying than before. The racetrack is a stage. If  it’s not right, we can’t entertain…it’s important to keep cars on track. Handling a wet track can be done with drainage systems. We don’t have the ability at IMS to start all over with the track surface. But new race tracks are learning how to evacuate water better, more efficiently, so it absorbs less and dries quicker. The track still has to maintain grip and smoothness. It has to be a package. At IMS, we’ll always continue working.

“Fencing is a mysterious aspect of a track. We continue to research and improve them. It has to protect the spectators and help drivers be safe. It needs to be invisible but safe. Racing is a spectator sort. A good fence needs to be invisible, but also provide the best protection possible for the fan. It needs to minimize damage to the driver and car.”

Forbes has never been to Talladega Superspeedway, so wouldn’t comment on its fencing or the recent accident during a NASCAR race. “The fence at IMS was designed in a vacuum. We didn’t rely on anyone else. We looked at what we had to design for IRL cars going 225 mph, NASCAR and Formula One cars going 180 mph. We didn’t compare our fencing with others, but designed to what we have. The banking at IMS is 9 degrees 12+ minutes. That’s our design challenge. Talladega has 33 degree banking. The IMS fence built in 1992 – very modern fence.

“We want IMS to be a total experience, more fulfilling, more worthwhile. We want the roads to be good, the grass green, and trash picked up. We want it to be more like a park – welcoming. We are the world’s largest stadium, which is a total of all its parts. We’re rebuilding ourselves, not just the track. All staff are ambassadors. It is attitude. Our mission statement matches goals. Being on track is being on stage.”

Forbes is like a Back Stage Director. “I handle all else – backstage. It should be an invisible position, invisible like the fence. We have very finicky customers, who expect a lot. We can’t let them down. We have to deliver and meet expectations.”

Severe storms are difficult for the track. Mother Nature is unpredictable. “This is a city of 300,000. On race day it is the second largest city in Indiana. We can’t just run to the basement. We have the best prepared group here at IMS, but it is challenging. When it rains, the parking plans change.”

One of the most unusual incidents Forbes encountered at IMS was three years ago when 50,000 bees landed on a car in the media lot, covering the entire vehicle.  The car was spotted by one of the ‘Yellow Shirts’ (security person) who contacted Forbes. “We have to be prepared for anything.” IMS has a beekeeper on call, who was brought to the track via police escort. The situation was handled before the car’s owner even knew there was a problem.

Take a bow, Kevin Forbes.

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