August 21, 2001 Bristol Motor Speedway Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, and his car owner, Jack Roush, conducted a teleconference shortly after NASCAR's presentation on the Dale Earnhardt investigation. A transcript of...
August 21, 2001 Bristol Motor Speedway
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, and his car owner, Jack Roush, conducted a teleconference shortly after NASCAR's presentation on the Dale Earnhardt investigation. A transcript of that teleconference follows:
JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ON NASCAR'S PRESENTATION?
I was impressed with the thoroughness of it. There were no, in my opinion, major surprises that came out of it. It was very revealing based on all the factors that went into developing the theory that made you think about a lot of things, so, all in all, I thought it was very well done and very thorough. I like to look at commons sense practical things in conjunction with engineering and everything that they said makes sense to me and, because of that, I believe it to be thorough and believe it to be correct."
WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO NASCAR MANDATING CRASH BOXES NEXT YEAR BUT NOT
HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINTS?
I'm very pleased about the crash data recorders. I think it's imperative to continue to understand what it is the race cars do when they wreck, then, from there, what the drivers' bodies do after the race car wrecks or while the race car is wrecking. I think that also shows a major step on their part because someone has to study that data and someone has to understand that data and in order to have those boxes, you need a full commitment that is more than just paying for or installing the recorders, it's about understanding and being able to use that equipment. So, mainly, it's a show of continued support to make racing safer. As far as mandating a head and neck restraint system, I don't think that mandating it is necessary. We live in a country which allows us freedoms to do things that we do. Making a decision as a race car driver not to where a head and neck restraint system, understanding all of the positives that come because of it, in my opinion, that's your prerogative. The only person you're putting in danger is yourself. If you choose to do that, then I believe that to be your choice, so I don't believe it needs to be mandatory. I think education is a great power and the continued effort by NASCAR and by outside companies to educate drivers, crew chiefs and owners on the importance of many safety items, not just the HANS, is more important than making them mandatory."
WHAT IS THE UPDATE ON YOUR SEAT PROJECT?
Just to clarify, I have spent some of my own money, but Roush Racing has spent a tremendous amount of money and effort also. We have continued to try to build a better and safer seat. As seen by us, the composite seat offers a lot of advantages but there are also some disadvantages -- some of which we know and some of which we don't know. So, until the composite seat comes on the scene, which, in my opinion, is way down the road, there are some immediate benefits that can be done with aluminum. It may turn out that we can get all of the benefits of a composite seat through aluminum, so we have worked diligently to build an aluminum seat that has all of the factors that the proposed perfect composite seat has. We've been able to make tremendous strides on it and we'll continue to work. Kevin Harvick ran our latest design or rather a design that was developed through Butler Motorsports in the sled testing that we did. But he's been running that and we're testing it next week. We believe that there are tremendous advantages in aluminum and there are tremendous advantages that are available to us today, rather than waiting for a composite, which, in my opinion, is way down the road."
WHAT IS THE DESIGN OF THIS SEAT LIKE? IS THERE MORE SUPPORT AROUND THE
SHOULDERS BECAUSE THE EXPERTS SPOKE ABOUT BODY ROTATION IN AN ACCIDENT?
I agree wholeheartedly with what they said. The research that became available to me last year over 12 months ago indicated that we needed more support in the shoulder areas. In my opinion, having support in the rib areas isn't wrong, having support in the shoulder area is correct. So what we tried to do is continue the support in the rib area, which some of the information that's been given to us through our testing says that the rib support is good for frontal impact. In addition to that, we've added shoulder supports and made the shoulder supports very strong and very beefy to help control the upper body movement. So we've tried to use both approaches."
MANY OTHER PRO SPORTS HAVE FORMER PARTICIPANTS IN MANAGEMENT POSITIONS,
BUT NASCAR HAS PRETTY MUCH STAYED WITH THE FRANCE FAMILY. DOES THAT
DISAPPOINT YOU THAT MORE FORMER DRIVERS DON'T GO INTO THE AREA OF
I've never really thought about that. My initial thought about it though is that the way NASCAR has run their program, especially over the last 12 months, has been including the current drivers. We have an open forum every weekend -- or anyday that we decide we want to call NASCAR -- that they can get direct information from current drivers. I think they do a pretty good job of taking that information and understanding that sometimes we have competition in mind and sometimes we have safety in mind. They're separate issues. I feel like the way they run their program today offers the current drivers and open forum and I think that's better than having an older driver or a retired driver in a permanent situation. I think it gives them immediate, current information that they can use for our benefit and their benefit as well."
NASCAR DIDN'T RECOMMEND MANY CHANGES AT THIS TIME. ARE YOU SATISIFIED
I disagree with you on that. Surely today they didn't come out and say that this is what you need to do better and this is what you need to do better and this was wrong. But what they have done through the investigation, as it's gone on, is they have changed some of their inspection policies and they have come around and given ideas about belt locations and different ideas on belts. They have been proponents of the HANS system or a head and neck restraint system, not necessarily the HANS system. They've been proponents of building better seats, so it is true that today they didn't come out and say, 'Here are the things we need to be doing that we aren't doing now,' but they have over the last -- really I want to say 12 months -- but especially the last five months, bit by bit, given us information and made themselves available so that we can make our cars better. There have been a lot of changes inside of our race cars since the Daytona 500 that most people don't know about and, even though they haven't been rule changes, they've been recommendations based on the experience that they've been gathering."
THEY SAID THERE WAS SOME VARIATION IN THE WAY DALE EARNHARDT SET HIS
SEAT BELTS UP. DOES THAT GIVE YOU PAUSE ABOUT YOUR BELTS?
Well, there are certainly a lot of variations in how seat belts are mounted. If you really walk through the Winston Cup garage and look, you see a lot of different ways of doing it and I'm sure all of them are right in some situations and some of them are wrong in others, so what we've tried to do is look at practical experience -- which is what Dale Earnhardt was doing as well. In addition to that, through the sled testing that we've watched and been a part of, we've paid attention to belts. We've been aware of the belt situation since Daytona. Before Daytona, it came to our attention that our belt locations were wrong as well. We changed them before Daytona during the winter, so it's a continuing effort. It certainly makes me look even harder at the belts and where the belts are mounted and how they're mounted. I believe today that my belts, with the exception of we haven't incorporated a six-point harness yet, but with the exception of that, I believe my belts are wonderful. But Dale Earnhardt believed the same thing, so we have to use some science and go do some studying and NASCAR is gonna do a lot of that to confirm they are what they need to be."
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner -- Roush Racing
HAVE YOU TALKED ABOUT DOING ANYTHING WITH THE FRONT END OF YOUR CARS,
LIKE THE COMPOSITE BUMPER?
I don't have any plans in the immediate future to put Humpy Bumpers or any other device on our cars. We are open and anxious to participate in additional sled tests and additional analysis to try to look at the various things that might be done to see if there would be a beneficial effect. The one thing you must do once you see the prospect of something that could be beneficial, you must go through a fairly exhaustive process to say, 'Alright, this is different, this could be better, under what circumstances, how many circumstances, and how much worse could it be in those situations.' That can't be taken lightly and it can't be done too quickly. I know in the meeting we had this morning with the drivers and some of the owners with the NASCAR folks and got the preview of this presentation, a question was asked by one of the drivers, 'Is there a plan now to come back and make changes in these front ends to make them softer so they will absorb more?' And what the opinion was of the experts that participated in this research and in the conclusions that were being presented -- some of which we being presented and some of which weren't -- but with that question he said, 'Well, the thing that would have been helpful here was for the car to have been stiffer in the direction where it collapsed and the number of g's that the passenger compartment would have seen would have been less if the car had been stiffer.' But for many potential, predictable accidents that could occur, the stiffer car would be worse and would result in more injury. The thing that is real easy to overlook is the fact that this chassis and these safety systems that we have in these cars have resulted from over 50 years of fairly continuous and concerted work by people who maybe didn't do analysis beforehand, but had a chance to look at an untold number of accidents and all kinds of scenarios and that has resulted in placing the bars and mounting the seats and locating the driver and mounting the steering wheel and all of these other things so the driver wouldn't have the prospect of being injured the next time that particular wreck occurred. So, if you go back and change that for one reason, you've got to do a really exhaustive look at all of the history and all of the other possibilities so you don't create a scenario that has a worse consequence than the one you're trying to solve. So, as far as what the Humpy Bumper is and what any other, I'm gonna say knee-jerk thing that somebody might come up with that could be beneficial for one scenario, I stand behind and beside and very much with NASCAR -- being proud of the cars we have and anxious to see them continually improve as they have improved over the last 50 years to get them where they are today."
DOES THIS BRING ANY KIND OF CLOSURE?
I think today's example of an exhausted effort to figure out what happened and then to maybe perhaps more importantly figure out how to prevent this or another fatality from happening again, shows the willingness of NASCAR to do the right thing. That has been questioned by a lot of people. I know the authorities of NASCAR have taken that very seriously. They want the competitors to understand and they want the fans and the media and everyone involved to understand that they do car about safety. I believe that Mike Helton and Gary Nelson and everybody at NASCAR wants it to be as safe as possible for every driver and to the fans alike. So I think it shows the skeptics that they are serious about it and I think that's the strongest statement that it's made, more so than the result of the study."
"As far as closure is concerned, over the years there have been, unfortunately, many drivers seriously injured and a number that have been killed. Out of each of those tragedies that has resulted from somebody trying to make a living doing the thing that they like to do...out of their death or their injury comes a bit of information or something that will benefit the folks that come down the road. Dale Earnhardt's accident is over. He was unfortunately killed. I had conversation today with a number of people within the teams about what had happened with the car and through the accident. There is no doubt in my mind that by his death that we have accelerated the analysis and accelerated the improvements to the cars probably four years. That's part of his legacy, that the thing that he was doing when he was out there racing his car with great enthusiasm, which resulted in his death, will result in the prospects for survivability for additional drivers coming down the road. I think if Dale looked down from wherever he is and saw that, that he would find his life added additional meaning that it might not have had if he had gone full term and retired and then left the three or four years that he's given back to some of the drivers who might have otherwise been hurt in the timeframe from where we were in February to where we are today."