CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 2, 2000) - Kenny Wallace, driver of the Square D/Cooper Lighting Chevrolet, saw his top-five hopes in the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway spin out like an Olympic ice skater attempting an ill-fated triple ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 2, 2000) - Kenny Wallace, driver of the Square D/Cooper Lighting Chevrolet, saw his top-five hopes in the NAPA AutoCare 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway spin out like an Olympic ice skater attempting an ill-fated triple axle.
The St. Louis native witnessed a bizarre series of events, which forced him to a 22nd place finish in Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series event.
"Our race car was really inconsistent today," said Wallace. "At times we were the best machine on the track. At other times, we couldn't pass a soul. I was racing as hard as I could, but when you get spun out twice in one day, it's going to take its toll on your race car. We just had one of the strangest days ever at Martinsville. Something was up with our shock package midway through the race because I was bouncing all over the place. The track just didn't go in our favor on Sunday."
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Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. announced that it would use encapsulated polystyrene barriers, or soft walls, on the inside perimeter of turns two and four during Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event. Kenny Wallace, driver of the Square D/Cooper Lighting Chevrolet, has been campaigning all season for the development of race safety technology. Wallace appreciates the 1.5-mile oval's improvements and hopes that other tracks will follow suit.
"Yes there's an element of danger in our sport, but racing with concrete barriers is ancient history," said Wallace. "With the speeds that Winston Cup race cars are running, to lose control and slam into a concrete wall is ridiculous. Ten years from now, we're going to look back, laugh and say, 'Do you remember when we used to crash into concrete walls?' I know we need to keep the wrecks inside the track and away from the crowds, but concrete barriers aren't the only answer.
"In my opinion, I applaud anyone who makes an effort to improve safety at any race track," added Wallace, who finished 27th in Lowe's Motor Speedway's spring race. "Racing doesn't have to be a dangerous sport. If we have the technology to save a life during a race, we should go to any means to use it. As long as they make an honest effort, I would never dream of criticizing a track owner for trying to save lives."
Soft walls seem like an obvious choice to improve driver safety. Square D/Cooper Lighting crew chief Jimmy Elledge supports soft barrier technology, but he also feels that its implementation is no easy task.
"I applaud anyone who's trying to make racing safer," said Elledge. "But if you do use soft walls, you'll have to line the entire length of the track. If you just cover the corners, there'll be an area where you could hit the soft wall square on and do a lot of damage. It's hard to implement soft walls, especially at tracks where the racing groove is up against the wall. If you add soft walls to those ovals, you're going to change the width of the track and the entire race itself. I believe that soft wall technology needs to be implemented while the facility is being built. If we're going to keep driving faster, putting more downforce on these race cars and coming up with better tires, we're going to have to improve these tracks from day one."
Elledge also pointed out that driver safety is not just a track owner's problem. The second-year crew chief also places part of the responsibility on the shoulders of each individual race team.
"As a race team, we can make races safe for our drivers by doing our jobs properly," said Elledge. "The Square D Racing Team has to make sure that everything's done properly so that Kenny gets into a dependable race car. Race teams must really pay attention to details and never cut corners that might threaten a driver's life."