Work in Sports
As Loudon draws near, drivers express concern
DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) -- New Hampshire International Speedway, the scene of two driver deaths this year, won't be changed when NASCAR returns in two weeks, and that isn't playing so well in the garage area.
“We really are looking for something to happen,” Rusty Wallace said Saturday. “I think that most every driver in this garage area will be totally blown away ... if we go back to New Hampshire and those walls aren't lined with that Styrofoam.”
Mike Helton, NASCAR's chief operating officer, said earlier in the day that the sanctioning body had no plans to order changes at the 1.058-mile oval where Busch Series driver Adam Petty and Winston Cupper Kenny Irwin were killed in accidents eight weeks apart.
Stuck throttles are believe to be responsible for their head-on crashes into the third-turn wall.
“We still maintain that it is not a track issue,” Helton said. “We have raced there along with other forms of motorsports for so long, and so many miles and so many events.
“We still maintain that there's nothing wrong with that race track.”
Jeff Gordon agrees with Wallace, saying the issue of driver safety should be paramount. He says the walls at New Hampshire are so far out of the racing groove that putting foam on them would no crowd the cars.
“I will be disappointed,” Gordon said when asked how he would feel if no changes were made. “I think they're going to get a lot of backlash.”
Track management has said it would make changes if directed to do so. But Helton insists the sanctioning body needs to continue testing potential wall-softening materials.
And he said the teams are being given input and that opinions of the drivers are valuable.
But Wallace wonders why NASCAR isn't making the walls safer.
“That's all the drivers are wanting,” he said. “If they're not (making the changes), it would be a sad day I think.”
Despite calls for dramatic action - and NASCAR has mandated kill switches on the steering wheels - Helton refuses to be rushed into anything until he's sure it will be work.
“It's an ongoing work in progress that we're very serious about in spite of what some people believe,” he said. “It's really a matter of a process of eliminating things that don't work to try to find the one or two that make sense to carry on the progress and research.”
Helton was alluding to possible changes on both cars and the walls of race tracks.
NASCAR is looking at a new device being developing by Roush Racing which would shut off the engine if a driver applies the brakes when his throttle is stuck.
Driver Jeff Burton is asking for patience, saying he isn't going make any demands.
“If they're putting an effort into it and they haven't found a reasonable solution, then that's reasonable,” he said. “If they haven't put any effort into it and that's why there's no solution, that's not acceptable.”
Last week, Lowe's Motor Speedway dropped a car from a crane onto a soft material to determine how much damage would be sustained. That hasn't been well accepted by NASCAR.
“We just don't make media events,” Helton said.