"Shelter-in-place orders" had grounded NASCAR to a halt, even in its own backyard of Charlotte, N.C., in mid-March.
But the NASCAR R&D Center had just installed new, 3-D printers.
"A few of us were (unbeknownst to each other) all looking at what we could do [to help COVID-19 efforts]. And face shields kinda came about," Eric Jacuzzy, Senior Director of Aerodynamics, explained. "We started trading emails. We came up with a couple designs via the manufacturers of the machines of what would work."
Days later, the R&D Center was producing hundreds of face shields per day. And their efforts would prove to be the tip of the iceberg of the greater, NASCAR community.
Technique, Inc., the chassis part tool supplier of NASCAR, is located in Jackson, Michigan. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the group was approached by Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital, with hopes they might create a face shield to protect healthcare workers.
"We were able to take the process from concept to shipped parts in under 96 hours," owner Ronnie Johncox explained. Technique is now producing over 20,000 shields per day. The R&D Center is referring all the orders they simply cannot fill to Technique.
“We’re getting tremendous feedback on the quality of our face shields. And the healthcare workers are very appreciative that they have something to help protect them," Johncox continued.
IMSA team CORE Autosport saw Technique's 96 hour turnaround.
And they raised them 24 hours.
"And then after that, we've been reiterating and improving the mask as we go," team manager Morgan Brady said. His group anticipates, like Technique, being able to produce thousands of shields per day.
"Shields are going from Maine to California. They're going to individuals. They're going to towns, cities, counties, doctors, hospitals. nursing homes -- anyone that is in need of protection."
The R&D Center doesn't have nearly the manpower of Technique or CORE Autosport: because it is not technically an "essential business" and due to social distancing practices, employees must work in shifts, coming in at all hours of the day -- and they're all volunteers. They've been coming in as early as 5 a.m. and staying until midnight. Doors and windows are kept open, and employees must take their temperature upon arrival.
"It's kinda nice to see people from different departments step up, and even people that don't really know what we do every day -- as far as the aero side and design -- they're getting to learn about 3-D printers," Jacuzzi explained.
"Even in some cases, they're able to bring these clear, plastic shields home, and have their high school aged kids help them out. Cut them, size them, punch the holes. It's kinda turning into a family affair!"
And Jacuzzi, too, has seen first-hand how high the demand has grown once the word got out R&D was making shields.
"We're getting a lot of requests from smaller, pediatric centers, and even a local county just asked us for 1,000."
Beyond the manpower and time, another obstacle for the R&D Center team has been the resources. The plastic material they use normally for "splitters" for Cup and XFINITY Series racing is from Piedmont Plastics. But Piedmont is also the same plastics company that thousands of grocery stores across the nation are now attempting to buy to build shields in their check-out lines.
"[Piedmont] is fitting us in with 150 feet at a time. Which for us, we can make a couple hundred shields out of that," Jacuzzi explained.
That has afforded Jacuzzi and his team time to try out some other projects with their 3-D printer, including building a model of a 50th percentile female, human head.
"We added an airway and everything in it, so that Wake Forest University can test how well these improvised surgical masks people are making -- how well they actually work compared to the medical equivalence," Jacuzzi said.
It's been an eye-opening experience for all involved, across the country and at all of these production hubs.
“We were surprised to learn in some cases, [healthcare workers] are taking the shields home with them so they know they’ll have one when they come back," Jacuzzi explained.
"The demand has been increasing every day," Morgan added. "We'll continue to make these shields as long as there is a need in our country."
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In addition to the aforementioned organizations, the following groups and members of the NASCAR community are giving back in the fight against COVID-19.
- Roush Fenway Racing is manufacturing open-sourced plastic aerosol boxes to protect medical professionals as they treat COVID-19 patients. They also donated N95 masks and safety glasses to Northeast Medical
- Brad Keselowski’s KAM (Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing) is producing face shields
- OEMs Ford, General Motors and Toyota are all also manufacturing assets to assist the medical community in the COVID-19 fight (face shields and respirators)
- The Joey Logano Foundation & Elevation Outreach have partnered to establish a $1 million COVID-19 Response and Recovery fund. In partnership with Bobbee O's BBQ, they will also donate free dinners to children under 18.