Both the IRL and rival CART have implemented tethering systems to keep broken-off wheels attached to cars. But Smith says he is still worried that the Charlotte crash and a similar accident at a CART race 10 months earlier at Michigan Speedway, in which three spectators were killed and six more were injured, have put open-wheel racing "in danger. And I think that endangers all motor racing." He has sent copies of an Indy car design with fenders to IRL founder Tony George and to the organization's executive director, Leo Mehl.
At a time when the IRL is trying to reduce speeds by lowering maximum engine rpm, Mehl, formerly Goodyear's top racing-tire engineer, says he is concerned that fenders "would make a car go faster." Exposed tires "create a lot of drag," he explains. "When you cover them up, you don't know how many miles per hour you're going to pick up, but you'd pick up a lot."
Fenders would also allow IRL cars to race closer together. Two open-wheel cars that make contact run the risk that one spinning tire will "climb" another, causing the cars to flip. Relatively safe fender-banging is one reason that NASCAR has become vastly more popular than Indy car racing. But driver Tony Stewart, the 1997 IRL champion, who has switched to NASCAR, fears that fenders would give some IRL drivers a false sense of security. "If you put fenders on IRL cars, they're going to become absolute weapons," says Stewart. "There are guys who don't use their heads and don't use their mirrors. Fenders would give them a license to be more dangerous than they already are."
Joyner-Kersee Jumps In
Gold Medalist Changes Track
Jackie Joyner-Kersee never had much difficulty attracting sponsors during her career in track and field. Last week, however, the three-time Olympic gold medalist took on the money-raising challenge of her life. During the next several months Joyner-Kersee needs to secure about $30 million in commitments to fund the NASCAR Winston Cup team she is forming with her husband and former coach, Bob Kersee. Although African-American-owned teams have been getting open-door treatment from NASCAR as it seeks to diversify, corporate America hasn't responded with the funding necessary to break into the elite Winston Cup series.
Former NBA star Brad Daugherty has been operating a NASCAR Craftsman Truck series team since 1995, and NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving and former NFL running back Joe Washington have teamed up to field Busch cars since '97. They have adequate sponsorship for the lesser series in which they compete, but no black owner in recent times has secured Winston Cup-class funding. Joyner-Kersee Racing plans to go straight into Winston Cup next season, forming the first black-owned team in NASCAR's top series since the late Wendell Scott retired in 1973.
To be competitive, Cup teams require about $10 million a year—$8 million from a primary sponsor and another $2 million from secondary ones—in three-year contracts. "Whatever entities I have to bring together to get the job done, I'm willing to do that," Joyner-Kersee says.
Kersee, who will manage the team, has talked with the marketing staffs of the other black-owned teams and says he doesn't believe racism has been an obstacle to sponsorship. No black driver has competed regularly in Winston Cup since Scott drove his own cars. The Daugherty and Washington-Erving teams employ white drivers because there is a dearth of black prospects. Kersee says he's looking for the best available driver, period.
"We're not a black team," says the 45-year-old Kersee, who has been an ardent NASCAR fan since childhood. "We're going to be a NASCAR team, and we're going to get the best people possible."