For most teams, a loose lugnut could mean a vibration, an unscheduled trip back down pit road or, in a worst-case scenario, a tire separation. As Nelson Crozier, developer of the SAF to GO Indicating Lug Nut, is quick to remind you, any loose tire comes with the potential for disaster attached.
That’s why he’s worked so hard on finding a solution to minimize the problem. In choosing to design a new, alternative lugnut, Crozier explained his number one concern was the safety of the spectators. Over the last few years, NASCAR has worked hard to keep tires on the cars, out of the fences and ultimately the grandstands. Yet the potential for danger is still there.
During the 2008 Coca-Cola 600, Brian Vickers was leading when he reported a bad vibration on the left rear. He lost the lead as he tried to diagnose the problem when the car snapped around, sending him into the outside wall. The tire came loose from the car in the process and bounced down the banking, jumping over the infield fence and hitting a camper. Luckily, no one was injured, but to Crozier something had to be done.
Working with legendary crew chief and current ESPN analyst Tim Brewer, Crozier’s company, T and N Products, LLC, developed a new, innovative solution to fix the loose/tight problem. Their goal was to come up with a system that would clearly indicate to the tire changer and NASCAR officials that each lugnut is secured tightly on the stud.
“[NASCAR] amended their rule two years ago to say there has to be one thread showing beyond the outer face of the lug. This is what facilitated our SAF to GO lug nut project,” Crozier said.
So how does this new lugnut work, and how is it different than the model most NASCAR teams are using?
The dimensions of the SAF to GO fit NASCAR specs and are approved for use in all national touring series, but the main difference between Crozier’s design and the current lugs used by teams can be found on the back side of the lug. The SAF to GO version is a bright, green-colored lug that has a red plastic ring attached at the end. Once tightened past the last thread, that ring will break off; and once the tire changer and NASCAR officials see the red plastic break, they know the lug is tight and ready to hit the track.
“The insert is contrasting color – red to go with the green lug,” Crozier said. “It is a six-segmented brittle piece so that when that last thread goes through, it shatters the ring, indicating the lug is tight against the wheel. [When that happens,] the whole lug turns green.”
At first glance, the concept seems to be a great safety innovation for everyone. But how has the reception been among teams throughout the garage area? In polling crew chiefs this weekend in Pocono, the feedback was a bit striking.
Perhaps the best head wrench in the business, Chad Knaus, had heard nothing of the new lugs. Penske Racing’s Jay Guy said he “didn’t buy” the idea the new lug would work, and Darian Grubb said he wouldn’t bet on NASCAR moving towards the SAF to GO lug nut any time soon. In fact, of the crew chiefs polled, only two – Grubb and Richard Childress Racing’s Gil Martin – had even heard of the design.
Judging from the various crew chief responses, Crozier and Brewer’s concept has not gone as far as they’d like. Teams are not issued lugs by NASCAR, nor are they mandated to purchase a particular brand. As long as the lugnut meets the dimensions specified in the NASCAR rulebook, teams are able to buy their lugs from anyone they want.
“We have given away 10,000 of them, and have probably sold another 10,000,” Crozier explained. “So people are obviously using them, but just on a very limited basis.”
At this time, Crozier and two unnamed car owners are pushing NASCAR into making his SAF to GO lug nut mandatory for teams in each of the touring series. He contends owners love the idea, NASCAR loves the idea, but tire changers are not in favor of using a product that will “show them up.”
Talking with a number of tire changers this weekend, it became clear Crozier’s assessment was correct. Most crewmen, when informed of the product, scoffed at the idea of providing NASCAR another way to spot something wrong with their car. Others, such as Hendrick Motorsports’ Ron Malec and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Bobby Hutchens, agreed the safety initiative was a step in the right direction, but would not pass judgment without seeing the product in action.
Each of these men also have competitive consequences to consider. Currently, the NASCAR rulebook states that whenever a tire is changed, all lugnuts must be installed before the car or truck leaves the assigned pit box. The penalty under either green or yellow conditions is that the car must come back to pit road, a devastating blow that makes it understandable why pit crews would try and hide the infraction – just one is all it takes to ruin your day for good.
As Malec pointed out, though, lugnuts have a way of policing themselves. He argues that with the hand speed that is involved in today’s pit stops, it is nearly impossible to securely tighten all five lugs by hitting them once. “That first lug simply sets the wheel,” he explained. “There is no way all lugs are tightened without hitting five lugs six times.”
For crew chiefs throughout the garage, there are also a number of varying concerns with the SAF to GO lug, ranging from jamming air guns, possible separations, and helping NASCAR more than needed.
Grubb said he has not tested the lug during pit practice, but has heard the breaking plastic ring can jam air guns, something that can ruin a stop on any day. The Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief added he feels the ring will also help officials spot a loose lug only when the car is sitting still on pit road; once it starts rolling, the official would still face the same visual issues with the lugs currently used.
For Guy, the main concern with the plastic ring is a potential separation. The Penske Racing crew chief believes even if the ring breaks when tightened, the material would leave some sort of separation between the wheel and the lug. The obvious concern there would be the potential for a vibration, an unscheduled pit stop or even worse.
Finally, there’s the balancing competition vs. safety issue – and competition often wins out. After learning of the product, crew chief ‘Bootie’ Barker put it as simply as anyone could by saying, “I don’t want to help [NASCAR] any more than I have to.”
For now, as far as NASCAR is concerned, the lug meets the dimensions required in the rulebook, and teams are more than welcome to use the product if they choose. However, unlike Crozier’s hopes, NASCAR’s Managing Director of Corporate Communications Ramsey Poston said NASCAR has no plans to mandate the product, and sees no need to do so in the future.
So while the SAF to GO Indicating Lug Nut may be a great safety innovation, it appears to have a long road to hoe before becoming widely used in NASCAR. If Crozier and Brewer are banking on this sport mandating their product, they need to sell not only officials, but crew chiefs on the idea. When Chad Knaus, Kevin “Bono” Manion, Alan Gustafson, Bootie Barker, Ron Malec and others do not even have a clear understanding of what your product is or what it can do yet, you’re a long way from securing an overwhelming market in stock car racing.