DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has announced a series of rule changes for the 2002 season, many of which personify the sanctioning body's longstanding commitment to safety.

Beginning in 2002, all drivers, crew members and other participants in the NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and all NASCAR Touring Series' must be age 18 or older in order to compete. This requirement matches the existing age standard for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

"After careful consideration and deliberation, and a thorough audit of our rules and regulations, we concluded it was in the best interests of safety, competition and professional development that we institute these new age requirements," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "Younger competitors need as much experience as they can accumulate before competing at NASCAR's professional levels. They need to hone professional driving skills, knowledge, and judgment that is best learned at the local level, as with NASCAR's Weekly Racing Series. After the age of 18, and with this experience, younger competitors should be better prepared for regional or national competition.

"We also considered the possibility of a young person's education being interfered with, by the demands of competing in our larger divisions. NASCAR values education, and would never want our racing to be a distraction in that pursuit."

Another significant change announced for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, the NASCAR Busch Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be the requirement that helmets and fire suits be worn by over-the-wall pit crew members. Any crew member that steps into the car servicing area will have to wear a helmet. In addition, any crew member involved in fueling will have to wear a full-face helmet and a fire-resistant "head sock." Also, all over-the-wall NASCAR officials will be required to wear helmets.

NASCAR also has announced that it will require cars to carry NASCAR-approved on-board accident data recorders - commonly known as "black boxes" - in a standard location. NASCAR will control the use and dissemination of data gleaned from the recorders, which were tested extensively, with encouraging results, during the latter half of the 2001 season in both NASCAR Winston Cup and NASCAR Busch Series cars.

Other safety-related rule-change highlights include:

-- All parts of a driver's body must be protected by fire-resistant clothing and/or equipment;

-- Fire extinguishing equipment (fully-charged Halon 1211 or equivalent) must be located inside the race car within the driver's reach and must have a visible, operative pressure gauge, but not be of dry powder or liquid type;

-- Teams have the option of using the auxiliary ignition on/off button, which is mounted on the steering wheel, or they can use a NASCAR-approved ignition interrupt system. This system contains a manifold vacuum switch and a brake line pressure switch (this may include a brake pedal position switch).

In addition to rule changes, another focus of NASCAR officials as the Daytona 500 approaches will be the latest aerodynamic rules package in place for NASCAR Winston Cup competition at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Officials will monitor NASCAR Winston Cup test sessions at Daytona - set for Jan. 7-9 - to assess whether further aerodynamic modifications should be made prior to Feb. 8, the first day of practice for the Budweiser Shootout (Feb. 10) and Daytona 500 (Feb. 17), at Daytona International Speedway.