NASCAR Automotive Technology Series: Carbon Fiber

 

For decades NASCAR vehicles damaged during races after taking impacts had to be hammered back into shape, often by pit crews who were desperate to get the vehicle back out on the course. The time consuming method of hammering the steel sections of the vehicle were often only effective in allowing the driver to see properly and little else was accomplished.

 

However, a new innovation in the materials used to construct the bodies of stock cars has revolutionized how they are repaired. Carbon fiber has replaced traditional steel in the construction of the Generation 6 vehicles, leading to new procedures in constructing and repairing the shells of NASCAR racing vehicles.

 

What is Carbon Fiber?

Essentially, carbon fiber is literally its name which is fibers of carbon woven together. The carbon fiber is then combined with a plastic resin and hardened by heat until it becomes a material that is both lighter and stronger than sheet metal of similar size and thickness. Carbon fiber is much more resistant to impacts than steel and does not bend or become misshapen.

 

The thin strands of carbon that make up the final carbon fiber product have created an entirely new line of thinking when designing NASCAR vehicles. Today, the deck lid is carbon fiber with the hood being partially carbon fiber and Kevlar.  Kevlar is the same type of material used in bulletproof vests and bonds with the carbon fiber to create an integrated mix of materials that improves their overall durability.

 

The Advantages & Disadvantages of Carbon Fiber

For NASCAR, carbon fiber has been a revolution in terms of how new materials are integrated into vehicles. Carbon fiber features a number of advantages that improve the overall performance and resilience of the vehicles.

  1. - A carbon fiber deck lid is 50% lighter than the older sheet metal version

 

Being more lightweight helps improve the speed and overall handling of the vehicle on the track. The importance of having a car as lightweight as possible provides a definite advantage in performance.

  1. - Carbon fiber is overall more resilient to impacts and damage over sheet metal

 

In actual race conditions, carbon fiber hoods, deck lids and other parts of the vehicle were more resistant to damage than their sheet metal counterparts. The carbon fiber parts tended to stay in one piece and which made for easier replacement.

  1. - While carbon fiber parts fit well, it can be more difficult to repair

 

One tendency of carbon fiber parts is to splint or splinter when damaged, making repairing the part itself difficult to impossible. Replacement is often the only option in this circumstances which can be very time consuming during a race compared to hammering sheet metal parts.

 

There is little doubt that carbon fiber has made a definite impact on NASCAR. This lightweight, yet durable and resilient material can hold up to minor damage far better than its old sheet metal counterpart. Yet more excessive damage means greater replacement times which can hinder placement in a race.

 

Currently, larger components are being created with carbon fiber to test their practicality for NASCAR vehicles of the future. Yet the future will no doubt include carbon fiber parts for NASCAR vehicles.