Loudon safety changes announced

NASCAR announces safety related changes for New Hampshire races By Dave Rodman RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 9, 2000) NASCAR officials announced Saturday additional safety-related measures for use at the Sept. 16 Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring...

NASCAR announces safety related changes for New Hampshire races
By Dave Rodman

RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 9, 2000) NASCAR officials announced Saturday additional safety-related measures for use at the Sept. 16 Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring event and the Sept. 17 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Teams in both series will be required to use one-inch restrictor plates for practice, Bud Qualifying and the races. Additionally, both series will take pre-practice laps behind the pace car to ensure proper brake temperature prior to full-speed practice runs.

"The evolution of safety in our sport has been a 52-year work in progress," said Mike Helton, senior vice president and chief operating officer for NASCAR. "Our latest developments in this continuing process include the rule changes on Aug. 1 that mandated use of auxiliary on/off switches and independent throttle stops.

"We have worked closely with Jack Roush on refining his brake pressure stop. Several teams are testing it this weekend."

Among the teams that are testing the device originated by former CART FedEx Championship chief steward Wally Dallenbach and refined and simplified by NASCAR team owner Roush -- and titled the "Roush Ignition Interrupter System" -- are those of drivers Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Burton used the device on Friday night in the NorthernLight.com Ford that won the Autolite Fram 250 on the .750-mile Richmond oval.

The device includes two sensors that measure pressure inside the car. One sensor is located in the engine's intake manifold while the other is in the brake system. If the driver applies 850-900 pounds of brake pressure -- as he ostensibly would if the car's throttle were to "hang open," and there is minimal pressure in the intake manifold indicating the engine is at or near full throttle -- the ignition shuts off.

The system is designed to hold the ignition in the inoperable mode until the system is manually reset.

"NASCAR has been supportive of the system and we'll see how it works this weekend," said Roush, who indicated he could have 19 of the systems ready by the middle of next week if approved, with the balance expected by the end of the week.

Burton and Robert Yates Racing driver Ricky Rudd tested the system at Darlington Raceway a few weeks ago under NASCAR supervision. Both drivers said they felt the sensor-based system had the potential to "dramatically lessen the impact in crashes caused by stuck throttles."

Helton said after much consideration and analysis, the decision was made to make a change for the upcoming return to New Hampshire.

"In regards specifically to the New Hampshire event, we will mandate use of restrictor plates and pre-practice warm-up laps for both the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura Lube 300 presented by Kmart and the Busch North Series," Helton said. "Our thought with regards to the restrictor plate is obvious. The track has not changed but the cars are faster.

"This will slow them down. The reason we're implementing the warm-up laps is to give the drivers a chance to warm up their brakes and check their throttles."

The moves are at least in part in response to a pair of fatal accidents earlier this season in the third turn at the 1.058-mile flat oval. In a technical bulletin issued Aug. 1, NASCAR made mandatory an ignition "kill switch" mounted on the steering wheel in reach of the driver's thumb; and a pair of throttle "stops" within the carburetor to restrict movement of the throttle linkage.

Adam Petty suffered fatal injuries in an accident during practice May 12 for the New Hampshire 200 NASCAR Busch Series race. On his first hot lap on the race track on July 7, Kenny Irwin was fatally injured in a similar crash in the opening practice for the thatlook.com 300 NASCAR Winston Cup Series event.

The New Hampshire race track, which opened in its current configuration in 1990, had previously incurred no fatalities in stock car accidents.

"Long term, there are several things we are going to keep pursuing, such as monitoring the research and development of 'soft wall' technology," Helton said. "We are talking with experienced people to spearhead additional efforts in the area of safety.

"What we have to remember here is we can not jump to scientific and intellectual conclusions. You can theorize but those theories must be tested and tested again to make sure you are making the very best decisions. That is the only right and fair thing we can do for the drivers, their teams and fans. To date, we do not have any scientific conclusion on the soft wall technology we have studied."

According to NASCAR Winston Cup Series Director Gary Nelson, data shows that with restrictor plates, teams can expect a reduction of approximately 10 mph at top speed. With foam barriers, it equated to approximately two mph from the time the front bumper hit the foam then hit the wall.

"We have said and we still believe that there is not one simple answer to solving the problem," Nelson said. "You can't eliminate every single possibility but you try and reduce them based on what you know and what your research tells you. It is our hope and our approach that the combination of all these elements will work."

Restrictor plates with holes measuring 7/8th-inch in diameter are currently used for races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, two of the circuit's longest and fastest oval race tracks.

NASCAR Winston Cup point leader Labonte was uninjured a week ago at Darlington Raceway when the throttle on his Interstate Batteries Pontiac apparently stuck going into the 1.366-mile track's third turn. The device engineered by Roush and his business partner and chief engineer Bob Corn, is being embraced because Labonte said he had no time to activate either of his kill switches before he hit the wall.

Mark Cronquist, engine builder for Joe Gibbs Racing, which fields NASCAR Winston Cup cars for Labonte and Stewart, said the mandate would make extra work for his department, but the end result would be worthwhile.

"It will take all of us -- 23 of us -- and we'll probably work Sunday, Monday and Tuesday pretty late," Cronquist said at Richmond International Raceway Saturday while preparing for Saturday night's Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400. "We'll have guys working Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday just to try to get stuff done. Wednesday morning we have to load the truck. We usually don't work Saturdays or Sundays, but anybody that's not at the race track will be back working.

"Luckily, we're about two weeks ahead of ourselves right now, so whatever time we lose here isn't going to be real bad. Right now, we're pretty much trying to build stuff for Charlotte. Where this puts us behind is on Talladega stuff because the guys that work on plate stuff are now working on this instead of Talladega."

While there's been a widely differing variance of opinion on the topic, Aaron's Pontiac driver Johnny Benson said he appreciated a move on the issue.

"If the answer was easy it would have been fixed a long time ago," Benson said. "Well, the answer is not easy. Everybody is doing what they can and doing everything possible. It's a very tough situation that everybody is in -- not just NASCAR, not just the race track, but the drivers and the crews and the owners. Everybody as a group is aware that we need to fix something. Hopefully the answer will be right."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Wally Dallenbach , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Adam Petty , Johnny Benson , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Mike Helton
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing , Yates Racing