FORT WORTH, Texas Kenny Brack's car disintegrated as it pinwheeled through the air after crashing near the end of the IndyCar Series finale last fall.
Instead of another exciting finish at Texas Motor Speedway, it was a horrific scene filled with agonizing moments as Brack was extracted from the driver's pod the only part of the car still intact. He survived with multiple fractures and the race ended five laps short under caution.
The car went airborne after being bumped at more than 200 mph. It never hit the 39-inch concrete wall, instead slamming into and destroying a 12-foot steel catchfence near a section of empty bleachers.
But since that terrifying crash, more than $1.7 million in safety improvements have been made in Texas.
The biggest change was the installation of SAFER barriers, or so-called ''soft walls'', that are in use for the first time this weekend when the IRL returns for the Bombardier 500 on Saturday night.
''Everybody's just glad to know they're up,'' said Eddie Gossage, the speedway's president. ''There is a lot of peace of mind it gives drivers.''
The catchfence was also reinforced and a new crash fence was installed atop the inside wall.
''Nobody ever thought that a car would be up there in the fences. It's good they've made those changes,'' Penske driver Sam Hornish Jr. said Thursday. ''I think having the SAFER barrier at the track is a great addition. It's proven how much better it is for the driver.''
The steel tube and foam barrier is designed to help absorb the impact of crashes. Texas is the eighth track to install the system.
Tracy Hines became the first driver to hit the new barrier during a qualifying run Thursday for a NASCAR trucks race Friday night.
Hines slammed into the wall coming out of the fourth turn. The impact severely damaged the truck, but the driver was released without needing treatment after a required trip to the infield care center.
Gossage said the safety improvements were being considered before Brack's accident. But the accident ensured the additional inside fence that protects people on the infield.
''I saw Kenny's motor bouncing down the track,'' Gossage said. ''It could have bounced over the wall and into somebody's lap.''
Brack broke his back, a thigh, his breastbone and both ankles. He hopes to race this season, and got into a car for the first time Saturday during a test session at Richmond.
Texas didn't get specifications for the SAFER barrier until mid-March, so it couldn't be in place before the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch races at the track April 3-4.
After those races, 6,300 linear feet of the barrier was installed. It was put in the corners and through each turn, along the front stretch and on a portion of the inside wall where several hard crashes have occurred coming out of the second turn.
Bryan Herta crashed into a SAFER barrier during a qualification attempt last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
''It still hurts,'' Herta said. ''If the wall hadn't been there, that and the Hans device, I have no doubt I wouldn't have been able to come back and qualify the next day.''
The 1 1/2-mile, high-banked Texas track has become known for some of the closest finishes in IRL history and three-wide racing at more than 200 mph. The 24-30 inches of track taken away for the new safety walls shouldn't affect that.
''The race is going to be just as exciting, and the track is safer,'' said Tony Kanaan, second in points by one behind Andretti Green teammate Dan Wheldon. ''I don't think it took any room away from the racing. We're not running up there. If I'm there, I'm testing the wall.''
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