Part II: One of the major topics in NASCAR Winston Cup racing the past year has been safety. Since last year's Daytona 500, NASCAR has mandated the use of head and neck restraints, approved a new carbon-fiber composite seat, and instituted the...
One of the major topics in NASCAR Winston Cup racing the past year has been safety. Since last year's Daytona 500, NASCAR has mandated the use of head and neck restraints, approved a new carbon-fiber composite seat, and instituted the use of impact data recorders in all cars. Ford drivers spoke about these safety enhancements and what they mean to the sport.
RICKY RUDD --28-- Havoline Taurus
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CRASH DATA RECORDERS? "To be honest with you, I'm a big fan of that. I think we should have had them for many years. Indy cars have had them and I don't think there's ever been the emphasis like they've got today on safety and the black box is kind of a missing link. That's able to measure g-forces and crash angles and all kinds of different feedback when they try to reconstruct an accident. When they start looking at failures or the structure of the race cars, and I put seats in the category, the black box will basically save the crash investigators a tremendous amount of time trying to reconstruct a certain accident. In the past, they had no choice, but now they've got the black boxes and that's definitely a plus."
HAVE YOU LOOKED AT THE NEW COMPOSITE SEAT? "I looked at it and it's quite a bit different. I agree with the theory, but I'm definitely not gonna be the first guy to test it. We'll wait and see how that develops. The concept is very good. It's basically taking the capsule of an Indy car and inserting it into the cockpit of a Winston Cup car. There are some things that are different about it, but I think I've seen enough positive things out of it, so we'll have to wait and see how that goes."
ARE THE CARS SAFER NOW THAN A YEAR AGO? "I think they're definitely safer, but, unfortunately, it's taken some tragedies -- not only Earnhardt, but Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty. It's unfortunate thinking that those guys passed on before we've gotten our cars to the point where they are safer today. The video that was presented from the guys doing the crash testing is almost invaluable. You can have all the data and the words, that's one side of it, but to see the video of the reconstructed accident on a sled test is pretty convincing to see that. Sometimes I think the old adage, 'A picture is worth a thousand words,' is appropriate because you can look at that and say, 'Okay, I need to do this and this and this to the race car,' and the changes being presented to us with the different seat construction and so on, when you watch the video it all makes sense."
WHAT HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINT DEVICE DO YOU USE? "I've worn both of them. I wore the Hutchens a good percentage of last year and then I went to the HANS later in the season. It's a matter, I guess, of personal comfort. I know there are pros and cons that could be argued on which one is better, but I like both of them. I'm wearing the HANS right now and will probably stay with that most of the season."
IS IT MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE RACE CAR? "The biggest difference is if a driver doesn't have any kind of head restraint system at all, you can put the Hutchens device on and you don't have to make any modifications to your seat. When you go to the HANS device, you have to work on your seat. You have to go in there and basically do some pretty extensive work on your seat. It's kind of hard to do it at the race track, so the Hutchens device for me got me in the mindset that I needed to wear a restraint. After wearing the HANS, the biggest difference is that with the Hutchens you have to cinch those straps down so tight that it virtually eliminates any lateral movement -- left to right movement of your head. With the HANS, you're able to leave those tethers a little loose so you can turn your head a little bit from side to side. So, to me, it's a little more freedom of movement with the HANS versus the Hutchens and that's just my personal opinion."
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
DO YOU FEEL SAFER IN YOUR CAR NOW? "Man, I tell you what, you ought to see the inside of my car. It is one uncomfortable car to get inside. I've got more safety stuff in that car than I've ever had in my life, but I think if I don't do that, then my peers and car owner and everybody would look at me like I'm an idiot. Everybody is doing it, we're learning more safer things and we better utilize it. I've got a new-style seat in it, I've got head restraint systems. I went back to the HANS device rather than the Hutchens for the Daytona 500. At places like Michigan and California, the smooth race tracks where you're not moving around a lot in the car, I'm gonna run the HANS. And then, at places like the road courses, Bristol and short tracks where you move around more, I'll go back to the Hutchens device because that gives me a little more movement. The seat, I told them, 'We've got it covered now as far as a big crash, I just hope we don't catch on fire because it would be hard getting out of these things.'"
DOES IT MAKE IT HARDER TO DO YOUR JOB? "When I was at the shop and we were putting all the safety stuff in the car I was getting madder by the minute because when you sit in the car it's restrictive. I bump my elbows and everything. I can hardly bend my head around. I'm locked in that thing like I'm not used to but I said, 'I guess you've got to have it.' Because of his (Earnhardt's) death, it's brought a lot of new safety thoughts about that maybe other people wouldn't have thought about in the past. I feel real safe in the car with all of the devices. I feel good. I am concerned about if we do get a fire, getting out in a timely manner because we've got so many restraints hooking us inside the car. The hole to get out of the car is smaller. The piece that goes alongside your head to protect you from hitting the wall really protrudes into the opening of the car. That's not a good deal, but I've practiced getting out of the car several times. I'll probably have my back ripped open and my head knocked open getting out if I had to hurry up. You've got to get into is real nice and easy the way it is."
WHAT SEAT ARE YOU GOING TO RUN? "I'm gonna run the aluminum Randy LaJoie seat. It's been altered by Team Penske a lot. It's got a Butler head support on it and a Randy LaJoie bottom, and a 20 percent alteration by Team Penske, so it's a little combo unit."
MARK MARTIN --6-- Pfizer Taurus
YOU CAME CLOSE TO A CHAMPIONSHIP IN '98. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RUNNING FOR A TITLE? "That was a tremendous season. That was a year with a new team and new guys and a new car, and it was really a magical year for us. We know what we did then and we did the same thing every other year, too, so all we can do is make our best effort each time just like we did in '98 and in '90 as well and whatever results we get are what we get."
HOW ARE THINGS DIFFERENT SAFETY WISE THIS YEAR? "I think the single biggest difference is the HANS device. Some of the seats are better. Some people have really good seats and some people have okay seats and I'd put mine in the okay department, but the HANS device is the single biggest difference."
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH IT? "It didn't take me long for the HANS. I started wearing it in March of last year and I've worn it since."
WHAT KIND OF RACE ARE YOU EXPECTING IN THE 500? "It'll be more towards the 2000 race and I think it'll be a great race. The 2000 race was a little bit different because that was the first year for the Monte Carlo and that car wasn't really a contender to win and now you have a number of different car makes that are contenders, so that will put a lot more teams out there in contention. I think it'll be a more interesting race. This is the biggest race of the year and you're gonna see the same kind of excitement in this race as you have in the past."