Impacting Improvement: Stafford Speedway Installing SAFER Barriers 

Sections of old ARMCO barriers have been removed from turns one and two at Stafford Speedway in preparation for the install of SAFER Barriers through the corners at the track (Photo: Courtesy Stafford Speedway)

Setting the bar higher and higher when it comes to the short track racing experience has become the annual mission for the ownership and staff of Stafford Speedway. 

From improving the fan experience, to improving the competitor experience, to improving the competition on the track, to making racing at the facility safer, it seems there’s always a major project in the works at the historic facility. 

And for this offseason track management has taken on one of its biggest projects in years, one that sets the bar for safety far higher than most any other short track in the country. 

Track management is in the midst of replacing antiquated ARMCO (guardrail type) barriers through corners of the half-mile facility. And it’s what will replace those barriers that is truly unique for a short track. 

Stafford Speedway management is beginning the project to install SAFER Barriers – commonly known as “soft walls” – through the lengths of the corners at both ends of the track. 

“We’re focused on driver safety,” Stafford Speedway general manager David Arute said. “That’s very important to us. This is definitely a big step forward for that. … I don’t know of any other asphalt short tracks that really have a SAFER wall system at all. It’s been a priority for us to do this for a long time and now we’re taking steps forward to make it happen.” 

The project will begin with the barriers being installed in turns one and two. At this time the hope is to be able to also complete the install of barriers in turns three and four before the 2023 season, but that project may get pushed to after the 2023 season. 

“They could take all the money they make and put it in their pockets, but instead they keep reinvesting in the facility,” said longtime Stafford competitor and two-time defending SK Modified division champion Todd Owen. “They’re constantly putting back into the race track. There’s not many short tracks in the country that would ever think about going to find SAFER wall barriers for their track. It’s pretty cool. Obviously it’s a nice feeling knowing that there’s extra precautions taken for safety. You know our seats get safer and the cars get safer, but it’s a constant thing trying to make sure you can make a place the safest possible for competitors and they do that.” 

Longtime local team owner Stu Fearn fields three Late Model teams at the track for his cousin Tom Fearn and his children Alexandra Fearn and Ryan Fearn. 

“This is a fantastic step in the right direction,” Stu Fearn said. “I really appreciate it. You’re going to get less damage, that’s the first thing and hopefully you have to spend less fixing cars. Way beyond that though is just the overall being safer and having less damage to a human. I really applaud them for investing in something like this. It’s something that does nothing to make them more money, it’s only for the safety of the competitors. That says a lot about what they do. This a great move and I really appreciate it.”

The project continues a trend of annual major offseason improvements to the facility. 

“We just always want to be better than what we’ve had in the past,” Arute said. “It’s like racing a race car, you always have to keep improving because if you don’t your competition will pass you. We just want to keep improving our whole facility. That’s what the offseason is about, taking on these big projects that you’re not going to do in five days. A lot of people think we lock up the gates at the end of the season and go on vacation for five months and come back and open the place up in the springtime. What sets us apart is that we’re here all winter improving. That’s what do and what we’ve been doing for a long time now.” 

Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series operating partner and former Whelen Modified Tour team owner Ed Bennett said the constant improvement at Stafford sets the track apart from most other short track facilities. The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series will headline the track’s NAPA Fall Final on Sept. 23.

“It’s just great to be associated with a place like this,” Bennett said. “I’ve been racing as a team owner or series operator at Stafford since 1994 and the place never ceases to amaze me. It’s always about making it better, new lights, new pavement, there’s always something new going on there. You don’t see that at a lot of places we go. A lot of our competitors [on the Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series] are more used to running smaller bullrings. It’s a different level up for a lot of our guys when they go to a place like Stafford and I think this will be big for a lot of those guys to know that the track is doing the best they can for them for their safety.” 

SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction Barrier) Barriers were first introduced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002. The technology of the barriers allows the wall itself to absorb a larger portion of the kinetic energy released when a car hits the wall, reducing the energy dissipated through the car and the body of the driver. The technology also reduces the energy that would typically thrust a car back across a track and into traffic.

SAFER Barriers have become standard at all major speedways in the country. But because of the high price of materials and installation, use of the barriers at short tracks is rare. 

Stafford Speedway installed a 141-foot span of the barrier in turn one before the 2006 season. That install included a section of the Generation I SAFER Barrier against a portion of concrete wall and a section of Generation II Safer Barrier replacing a portion of what was an ARMCO barrier. 

That old section of SAFER barrier will now be replaced with new barrier. The track is working on design and engineering of the install in conjunction with longtime track welder Joe Hamm. 

“Right now we’re installing turns one and two to see how that goes,” Arute said. “We’re going to see how well that goes and we could pursue doing turns three and four [before the 2023 season]. If not, it will be held off until next fall because it’s not a project we can take on during [the racing season]. … We have all the materials to do it all, we’re just not 100 percent sure on how long the full install will take.” 

The barrier materials were purchased from Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park, which closed in 2010. 

“We’ve been discussing for the last few years ways to do this project, but it was just too much to take on at the time,” Arute said. “This deal came together quick and it was opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

Sections of SAFER Barriers await install at Stafford Speedway (Photo: Courtesy Stafford Speedway)
SAFER Barriers materials in storage at Stafford Speedway awaiting install (Photo: Courtesy Stafford Speedway)


  1. Hallelujah!

    Not only will this reduce injuries, but it could reduce damage to the cars.

  2. Stafford always takes care of their competitors. Sometimes at great cost to the track. This is just another example of what makes Stafford great.

  3. Fast Eddie says

    This is EXCELLENT from multiple directions! Safer for the drivers, less car damage, shorter and easier cleanup times for the track crew, and less down time for the fans from on-track incidents! All of this is a safer, smoother, more efficient event for everyone! Yet another chapter of Stafford Speedway setting the standard for short track racing! THANK-YOU!

  4. Art Roraback says

    The Arute family is to be commended for the hard work and money they spend to make racing safer.

  5. And then you have Thompson

  6. Fast Eddie says

    Comparing Stafford to Thompson is apples and oranges. You can’t expect Mr.’s. Mayberry and Michaud to invest in property they don’t own. Be happy that thanks to them there is still racing there!

  7. Another example why Stafford is hands down the BEST local short track in the North East if not through the entire country

  8. Well said Fast Eddie

  9. Agree as well on the low blow to Thompson. Really all the Connecticut tracks as well as outside of Connecticut have their own unique set of challenges to deal with that limit their ability to do what Stafford does. I’m not their accountant but would guess the primary catalyst for much of this is SRX. No one could have predicted they land that prize for three years in a row.
    Stafford already has the bleachers renovations going or done and to pull the trigger on this opportunity that must have had competition just speaks volume’s in terms of their ablility to turn on a dime when conditions are ripe. Financing, logistics to get the used materials, storage, installation costs, off season time/weather constraints and ammortization costs all done in a tight time frame.
    I don’t think Stafford’s management is simply a great example of track management it’s an example of good management for any type of business. Accounting, finance, engineering, promotion the four college educated family members have all the business disciplines covered. The people they hire to execute their vision some of the best available plus they develop young talent as well.
    Sure the new barriers are everything that’s been said but there are solid financial reasons as well not related to altruistic safety concerns of drivers and owners repairing the cars. Stafford must have a huge insurance nut from providing drivers insurance to all the liability coverage they have for fans and competitors. These new barriers in addition to all the other safety regulations Stafford has are surely appreciated by insurance companies as well as any other government regulators responsible for monitoring track safety. Probably not reducing premiums but certainly moderating increases over the long haul and reducing the possibility of a catastrophic wreck the Arute’s certainly have first hand experience with.
    Most are seeing the driver safety and car damage angle. I’m seeing all that plus solid financial reasons over the long run to do it and a promotional bonanza highlighted by national exposure on ESPN. All hallmarks of superior managment in my view.

  10. Tim, Eric, Jim..... pick one, says

    Thompson has 2 racing grooves and is some of the best side by side racing in America…. Stafford is really well run but dont hold your breath waiting to see a pass on the outside.

  11. Fast Eddie says

    Hey pick one, don’t know how often you go to Stafford but I have seen quite a bit of side-by-side racing. I’ve also seen a hefty dose of 3-wide racing as as well, and I’m only able to fet there 5-6 times a year.

  12. Stuart A Fearn says

    good observation, I’ll bet you haven’t been to Thompson 5-6 times a year in quite some time… no one has (in circle track world) actually now that I think about it…
    Stafford is such a terrible one groove track blah, blah, blah…. this is probably why Flo Racing pays for the races and SRX is there 3 years in a row and it’s the kick off to the season as well. Show me a more successful track in all of New England. I’ll wait right here.

  13. Fast Eddie says

    Thanks Stuart, but don’t make that bet, as I have been at Thompson for 5 races each of the last 2 years! 🙂 And that’s only because the other two were cancelled due to rain! It’s the second closest track to me. Although geographically if the two tracks were in the opposite locations with the same schedules, I’d most likely be going to Stafford at least 10-12 times a year.

  14. Thompson and Stafford would benefit greatly with a nice, smooth, grippy repave.

  15. The comments of Stafford being one groove is such a tired refrain and just exposes who actually doesn’t pay attention.

  16. Suitcase Jake says

    Stu , Now you can mount the roller skates on right side … and pull a Ross Chastain wall ride through the Turns ….. LOL …. Oh yeah … scratch that … You’re the guy that has to do the repairs…. Good Luck Stu … You certainly have your hands full with a STABLE of 3 Cars to keep Race Ready … My hat is off to you … One is usually enough.. 2 is super hard … 3 is just Crackerjacks Crazy … I am pulling for Alexandria to grab that all important FIRST WIN in 2023…!!!

  17. It’s probably outside the scope of this fence upgrade project, but wouldn’t it be a good time to re-contour the guardrail entering turn one; that “141-foot span” in front of the pit grandstand? It’s too square to the direction of travel. Someone realized that fact back in 2006 and put that little section of soft barrier there. But it’s still arguably the most dangerous spot on the track. They need to get close up that seldom-if-ever used pit exit break in the wall and pull that fence back in to a more acute angle to the track. Paul Arute, himself, found out how unforgiving that blunt barrier is when he spun his LM into it this year.
    Regardless of all that, kudos to Stafford for making the changes. (Ross Chastain-type action to come later.)
    Oh, and paint it in alternating red and white 50-ft sections.

  18. Another step in the right direction would be to get the officiating fixed. Enough with the Chassis Pro officiating group. From Fox to the Hoosier tire truck enough is enough already. 🤮

  19. Why can’t stafford and Thompson get their heads out of their butts and run different week ends for swap meet’s and ice breaker and World Series. It will benefit both tracks and fans alike. Please think about the people that pay the bills.

  20. Rat Man,

    One word……EGO. Instead of working together they all want to compete due to ego. Would be nice if they worked together for the racer and race fan but that will not happen in our life time.

  21. Stuart A Fearn says

    Trying to think of an acceptable scenario to Chastain the wall.
    1. Any (Ryan, Alexandra, Tom) to win a championship
    2. Alexandra to win her first LM race

    Anything other than that has been done. Actually Tom has won 9 championships so he might be off that list! Actually in the moment if I thought it would work I would tell Tom to “Chastain it” on the last lap if that would win another championship. Long winter and we’ve fixed more in 1 week.

    I’m just not convinced it would work at Stafford at all. Not to give up on the idea, I mean we are still installing that skateboard where the outside door bar used to be but still.

  22. Suitcase Jake says

    Good Stuff , Stu keep your Sense of Humor it’s great … LOL We used to joke about that Roller skates on Right Side would be great at Seekonk and Thompson , not ever thinking someone would be crazy enough to try it … As a Driver the more i see of all the angles shown on UTUBE … He just pulled off one of the most ICONIC moves I have ever seen … Steve Letarte commented on JR’S dirty Moe that the older cars it would’nt have worked due to the tire bulge it would suck it right in and shred the tire.. But with the new one lug Spindle it and the rim contacted the wall and kept the tires up and new body and low profile tires it enabled the MOVE to Work …. Great Job by Chastain to even think it up and give it a try… I like most thought his THROTTLE was STUCK but no he put in in 5th gear and then floored it and got the mph way up higher than 4th gear and that propelled him past all those cars to beat the 11 to the LINE… It was GENIUS in my mind… Listen to the Dirty Moe Podcast with Letarte it’s great stuff along with the ALL ANGLES video they are Amazing to Watch …..

  23. I wonder if RacerX hates Stafford…

  24. I though the grandstand bottoms were fine- I wish they would add a seat back to them like New Hampshire Motor Speedway as that would set them apart.

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