After the deaths of world famous racers like Fireball Roberts and others, the racing community finally decided that enough was enough and that a new solution to controlling and carrying fuel was needed. USAC took the lead and went to Firestone to see what they could figure out in developing a “safe” fuel tank. The company had vast experience in creating bladderized fuel cells for aircraft and other applications and they were a natural fit for this job. They were also neck deep in racing at that point as well, so it all made total sense.
The job was not as straight forward as you’d expect, mainly because of the fact that the fuel control needs of a race car were totally different than that of an airplane. With the addition of a bladder, it traditional baffles were removed from the fuel tank which left the fuel free to slosh back and forth with some violence. This upset the weight balance of the car and often starved the engine. You’ll see some incredible footage of that as they ran an Indy Car with clear plastic fuel tanks to analyze the fuel movement.
It was the Scott Paper Company that provided the solution (amazingly). Their development of the polyurethane foam known as “Safe Foam” was the key to making the fuel cell work in the 1960 and it is still the trick to making them work (by and large) today.
Once the concept was proven, tested, and shows to be effective, virtually every racing body on the planet required fuel cells to keep their competitors safe.
We often know why we use certain things in racing but this is the rare opportunity to see how it all came together. Give it a watch!