Robert Yates talks about pit road safety

Robert Yates, car owner of the No. 28 and No. 88 Ford Tauruses driven by Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett, held a Q&A session this morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway to discuss the condition of crew member Bobby Burrell, who was injured in a pit...

Robert Yates, car owner of the No. 28 and No. 88 Ford Tauruses driven by Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett, held a Q&A session this morning at Atlanta Motor Speedway to discuss the condition of crew member Bobby Burrell, who was injured in a pit road accident last week at Homestead, and the issue of helmets on pit road.

ROBERT YATES, Car Owner --28/88 Ford Tauruses
HOW IS BOBBY? "He is going to be transferred to Charlotte today. NASCAR was going to have a plane there to bring him back at 10 a.m. to bring him to Charlotte, but the hospital wants to be careful so they're gonna have a nurse on board to monitor him as they fly. They're gonna bring him back to Carolinas Medical. Dr. Petty and some of the guys got together with the doctors there and they want to get him back in Charlotte. He's doing great. Each day has been a big improvement, so I'm starting to feel like he's gonna be fine."

IS HE CLEAR-HEADED OR STILL GROGGY? "He's very clear. He's very sharp and didn't forget anything. After he woke up he remembered everything, except what month it is and in racing you really don't do things by months."

WILL YOUR GUYS BE WEARING HELMETS ON SUNDAY? "I'd like to say that was definitely gonna be my vote, but I think from each one of us with what we saw and what we witnessed, it was a decision that each one of the crew guys made. Some people said that I made that decision, but I think it's really the guys who were smart enough to say, 'hey, that (a helmet) would have protected Bobby.' That's what they'll wear from now on."

WHAT KIND OF HELMETS? "A lot of our energy from our crew chiefs and crew this week have been meeting with helmet manufacturers and trying different helmets on. We have skateboard helmets, we have hockey helmets. We'll have helmets of some sort this week, but that will be an ongoing thing to try and make it better. For myself, I'm one that never liked to put gloves on or helmets on, but I'm all for it."

HOW IS THE MORALE ON YOUR TEAM? "We witnessed something that was extremely scary and probably won't go away. I was on pit road for 30 years and I always tried to heads up. If I was the jackman, I tried to really be watching after the crew, but it's gonna take the responsibility of the drivers to help out here too. I think that awareness will be high and we'll all look at the safety measures, but the bottom line pretty much comes down to the guy with the steering wheel and the brakes."

COULD ANYTHING BE DONE TO THE PIT STALLS THEMSELVES? "We've tried a lot of things. We've tried an even-odd. We've tried to make it safer. We've actually slowed it down and stopped it and made the pits open up. NASCAR has responded through the years to make the thing safer -- the speeds. We'll continue to work on this. Yeah, there are some places where I think it's too tight for 43 cars, but the race tracks that are short are good to us, so what do you do? I'm sure NASCAR at the right place and right time will work on it. Right now, I say one of the best things is the driver being heads up."

DO YOU THINK AN AIR JACKS WOULD BE BETTER THAN THE JACK USED NOW? "I disagree with that. I think all the dimensions of our sport and having the different players in it is what makes this sport what it is today. I was a jackman and on pit road in Nashville when we used to have that figure-s thing and that was very scary, but I think have the jackman and tire changer there -- the jackman is actually the guy that can be the watchout for a lot of things. I don't advocate putting hydraulic jacks on the car."

THOUGHTS ON OTHER THINGS THAN HELMETS. "There are a lot of things we can discuss. There's probably not a real simple and clear way to do it. Maybe you could look at the speed deal, but this really comes down to the drivers. When they're cut loose in a segment that they can run as hard as they want to, the drivers really need to be aware and watch out for who they run in to and who they hit. I was on pit road for 30 years and I knew drivers that I had to watch out for more than others. I've laid my jack up in the windshield of drivers that I didn't respect and these drivers just need to respect these guys on pit road."


DO YOU BLAME SOMEBODY FOR WHAT HAPPENED ON SUNDAY? "I would blame them if they don't pay attention and do a better job of driving."

DO YOU THINK WARD GOT KNOCKED INTO THE 28? "Certainly, I was looking right down clocking our stop and it was extremely violent. There wasn't anything slow-motion to it, it was there before anybody could do anything. If I was the jackman and I was looking right at it, I'm sure I probably couldn't have responded for my guys. It came from a car trying to pull out and it quickly changed direction. There was no braking, but Ward was helpless."

DO YOU ADVOCATE STRONGER PENALTIES FOR DRIVERS FOR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? "I think if it's there for all of them and you don't pay attention, you could look at yourself pitting the next time by would be a good program to have."

ARE YOU ADVOCATING A MANDATE FOR HELMETS? "No and I really didn't mandate it for my guys. I think good common sense tells you that in a situation we had with Bobby on Sunday, if he would have had a helmet on he would probably be right here today with us. I think it's the guy's (on pit road) response. NASCAR isn't going to tell us everything we need to do. I think it's really up to the teams to decide how safe we make it and helmets are a good thing."

ARE YOU ASKING NASCAR TO INSTITUTE STIFFER PENALTIES? "No, I really just want to say to the drivers, 'Know what you've got in your hands and pay attention and be heads up.' It's not really something that NASCAR can do. Sure, NASCAR can impose a penalty. I think that the dimension of pit stops make a lot of difference to our racing. The 28 has been one of the best teams on pit road and we make up positions on pit road. I don't want to change that. I just think that we want the drivers to drive a little more carefully. I think everybody can take a lesson from looking at Ricky Rudd. He absolutely will not accelerate through his pit stall. He keeps that pit road speed and slows from the time he enters. He's actually at a slower pace. It's just a little more common sense with the drivers. I think it's a heads up for them and I think it'll be safe. There will be a right time for NASCAR as to whether they can extend things or widen things, but we love the dimension of the pit stops. One of the big thrills of my life every Sunday was jumping out on pit road with a jack, a gas can or an air wrench and it's quite thrilling -- not the fact that you're about to get run over, but it's thrilling and fun and it's good competition and we want to keep that." SOME GUYS HAVE SAID THEY CAN OVERPROTECT THOSE GUYS WITH A BODY SUIT OR ELIMINATE PIT STOPS? "Well, they can stay home if they're worried about that. That's not what we're worried about. We want to go out and be able to see and hear. I love riding a motorcycle without a helmet. I know that's probably ridiculous. My daughter raises Cain at me for doing that and that's what she does, she works at a trauma center in Phoenix and she sees a lot of head injuries. I've communicated with her this week and she can tell me about Bobby's headaches and why they're hurting and all these kind of things. When I was on pit road, we didn't even have radios back then. I wanted to be able to hear the cars coming. Once you've got a radio on and you have a good coordinator in the pits, it's not a problem having a helmet on."

WHAT ARE SOME SAFETY THINGS YOU'D LIKE TO SEE FOR NEXT YEAR? "I think we will have some time to sit down and look over and learn from the past, which they've done for many years. I don't think they've ever been negligent about making rules, but it's pretty tough. When it's in the driver's hands, I think you've got to scold the drivers a little bit."

WHAT ABOUT THE CREW CHIEFS? "If the crew chief is the guy that has the radio command, he should be in charge of his guy and if his guy drives carelessly, then they should be on his butt too."

DO YOU EXPECT SAFER CHANGES TO THINGS OTHER THAN PIT ROAD NEXT YEAR? "We've responded. I'm certainly happy to see the head restraints because that's been one of our major problems. I think that's gonna add a lot to our safety, so we're all working on it. I think if it was all a clear cut solution, we would have been stupid not to have it done a long time ago, but the response is there. I feel good that NASCAR is keeping safety as a number one priority."


WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS A PROPER PIT ROAD WIDTH? "I know that some pits are not long enough to hardly parallel park your car, and those are real tough deals, but at those races the drivers have to be more careful. I really think they need to take the situation into play. I think 32 feet or something like that is a pretty nice length because is gives your guys room and allows a guy to go in front or behind, but, unfortunately, with 43 cars it sort of wraps around twice. I don't know. I'm sure they'll work on that."

WHAT ABOUT THE WIDTH OF PIT ROAD? "The width for the driving lanes, I think if they made them 10-wide, they would probably be trying to drive out 11-wide, so I think it comes back to the drivers using common sense on that. If somebody is a nose ahead of you, give him that position."

WHEN WILL BOBBY BE BACK? "He told Doug Yates Sunday night. Doug was with him and we didn't know his condition. We didn't know if he was alive or what, but when I went to the hospital they asked me if I wanted to see him and I did. They held me up for an hour and I got nervous about that, but what they told me was that he (Bobby) is such a scrappy and tough guy, he wanted to bust out of his deal. They had to sedate him a little bit so he'd calm down, but I think it was late Sunday night when Doug got to go in and see him. Doug said to Bobby, 'You're gonna let me change tires this weekend.' And Bobby said, 'No you're not, I'm changing.' So that's the spirit he was in on Sunday night. Every bit of news from day to day is an improvement. He ate his first food yesterday and took a shower. He's up. He's walking with a little bit of assistance, but we really feel good about him and the hospital feels good about him. It was wonderful to hear the doctor tell me that Bobby was gonna be okay because when I saw him on pit road and by the time I got to the hospital I was very uncertain about his condition."

IS THERE A MENTAL GAME THAT TAKES PLACE ON PIT ROAD? "It's sort of like an intersection -- sometimes you'll hide your eyes and figure the other person will be smart enough not to move. That's not the game we want to be playing on pit road. I was out there and I've run in front of cars. It's nice to have a jack in your hand, especially when we had 100-pound jacks. I think guys feared that a little bit. You've just got to have the respect from a driver. They know who they are. All these guys on pit road know which guys try to intimidate, try to run over your toes and scare the heck out of you. I don't like that game. I think those are the ones that should get slapped around a little bit."

WHAT ARE TWO OR THREE THINGS THE DRIVERS CAN DO ENTERING AND LEAVING BETTER? "When you knock somebody out of control and there are people on pit road, that's wrong behavior. Each driver has to use more give-and-take on pit road. If they'll do that, use their speed and don't accelerate through the pits -- if you have your crew chief or whoever telling them to keep it tight and watching out of the guys by using your mirrors and windshield, I don't think we'll have the problems like we had on Sunday."

WHO DOES YOUR CREW CONSIDER A PROBLEM? "I'm not out there now, but I was out there for many years and I knew the guys that were gonna run at you. Some of it was in fun, but this is a serious business and we don't need to be making those kind of moves at our guys. They always have that deal where you'd have the jack or air wrench full of oil and you'd mess his windshield up. You had all those kind of games, but we don't need that stuff. The drivers among themselves need to get together and say, 'Listen, if I have a good stop and I'm getting out first, give me the lane.' They just need to use a little courtesy there. If your pit stop is good and you got ahead, respect him and don't go knocking him around out there because you'll knock an innocent person into someone. Ward Burton was scared to death. He was there. He cared, but he had no control. He can't fix what happened. He can't do that, it's got to be the guy that drove into him."


WILL THEY VOLUNTARILY BACK DOWN? "If they don't voluntarily back down, I think it's up to our teams to point them out and then we'll go to the trailer and say, 'Listen, this guy deserves a penalty.'"

HOW ARE BOBBY'S HEADACHES? "His headaches are severe. His eyes hurt. They didn't realize how bad his back was. His back is black. I think in this whole deal we're so lucky that we didn't get any kind of injuries. Of course, the head injury is one that we're most concerned about, but a helmet won't protect against spine injuries and that kind of thing -- a helmet won't just fix it. We've got to have drivers paying attention."

-Ford Racing-

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About this article
Series Automotive , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Dale Jarrett , Robert Yates