Stock Show & Rodeo adds safer barriers using NASCAR technology

TMS President Eddie Gossage (left) and Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo President/GM Brad Barnes discuss what into installing the new flex wall.

The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo is using technology similar to that used by NASCAR for a new safer barrier for livestock and competitors.

In the late 1990s, NASCAR worked with a team of engineers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a concept called the Steel And Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier that would absorb kinetic energy when a race car made contact with the wall and help prevent more serious injuries to the drivers. Commonly referred to as a “soft wall,” the barrier consists of sections of steel tubing backed by foam blocks that are installed 30 inches in front of a speedway’s traditional cement walls. The concept debuted at Indianapolis Speedway in 2002 and today the SAFER Barrier is a safety standard at every NASCAR oval, including Texas Motor Speedway.

The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo entered 2018 with the objective of enhancing the safety of its competitors – both rodeo athletes and livestock – participating in the event at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. Any time athletes – human or animal – are engaged in high-level competition there is a risk of injury, but two horse fatalities during a single Stock Show was truly an extraordinary occurrence last year. The Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association recently conducted a survey of animal injuries and concluded that the rate of injury to rodeo livestock in the survey was fewer than five hundreds of one percent.

Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo President and General Manager Brad Barnes made a call to Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.

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“Brad called me last year after one of the incidents and he said, ‘tell me about this SAFER Barrier,’ ” Gossage said. “I explained the concept to him and gave him some phone numbers of who to contact. And they’ve come up with a similar concept, but have obviously scaled it to their needs. I have to give them credit for being cognizant and aggressive in finding some solutions to problems that will hopefully protect and save the lives of the livestock.”

“NASCAR’s reputation for driver safety gave me the confidence that our quest for an improved wall for rodeo competition was starting in the right place,” Barnes said. “Eddie’s referral was invaluable in helping us accomplish this important objective.”

The University of Nebraska Midwest Roadside Safety Facility was among the organizations Barnes consulted with to gain input from several experts in the fields of physics; animal behavior; and livestock and rodeo facility design and construction for a flex-wall system. The others were Athletica Sports Systems, the dasher board rink equipment supplier to the National Hockey League; Priefert Manufacturing; EZ Flex Sports Mats, a gymnastic floor mat product developer; and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Services & Biomedical Sciences.

Consultation with researchers and experts commenced in January 2017 to improve the arena wall at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum originally constructed in 1936. Prototypes of the arena wall system were created and analyzed during the course of nine months. A final design was approved in September and construction of the system began immediately thereafter.

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The flex-wall system was installed in the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in early January prior to the start of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. The innovative system incorporates design concepts used at NASCAR race tracks such as Texas Motor Speedway, ice hockey rink “dasher board” wall systems and matting materials adopted by Olympic caliber gymnastic competition facilities.