WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton discusses his accident last week at California Speedway and the steps he took to get ready for Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway. "I feel...
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton discusses his accident last week at California Speedway and the steps he took to get ready for Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
"I feel real good. Monday I really didn't know whether I'd be able to race or not, but once I finally got out of the bed.... For some reason or another I was kept from 4 p.m. Sunday until 9:30 a.m. Monday in a contraption with a neck brace where they told me I might have a broke neck, so I couldn't move for 17 hours. That hurt me as much as the wreck. Once I got up and had some more X-rays and was able to move around, immediately my neck, my head, my back started feeling better. Ever since then I've been getting back to normal. I'm not going to sit here and say I'm 100 percent, but I'm close to it. I feel good. I've been working out the past two days and have seen Dr. Charlie Branch in Winston-Salem. He cleared me Wednesday, so I'm ready to go racing.
"I was complaining about some neck pain. That's pretty common with that kind of accident. I've stretched a lot since and it's gotten better every day. I have not seen the helmet. I'm going to talk to Gary (Nelson) about that momentarily. I've talked to Gary about it. I think the Simpson (head restraint) did what it was supposed to do. The problem is if you hold the helmet, your head is still going forward. My chin hit something in the helmet. Somehow or another, you've got to use your neck and all with the helmet instead of just holding the helmet. That's just an opinion for now. Obviously John Melvin and all those guys are going to do a lot of sled testing the next few weeks.
"It's pretty similar except the HANS device is more on to your shoulder. It's using your shoulder as a pivot point. The (Simpson device) uses the back roll bar, and that had threading so the threading would come loose as the hardness of the impact. The harder the impact, the more thread would come loose.
"I'm not going to use anything this week.
"I really want to thank Gary Nelson, Jim Hunter and Greg Baumann for checking on me at the hospital. I've been in contact with Gary, and Greg Baumann and I have been in contact with each other every day. He suggested I go see Charlie (Dr. Branch) at Wake Forest and that's what we did Wednesday. He cleared me. He's got the CAT scan and MRI and all that looks good. I basically did what I felt I needed to do, but also used the guidance of NASCAR.
"I actually don't remember anything about the wreck. I talked to Mark Martin. I've seen the replay. I know that Mark and I made some contact, and I know there was nothing intentional on Mark's behalf, and I know that's how the wreck happened.
"I'm just not sure at this point (what head restraint to use). I think that John Melvin and all the experts out there have just got to do some more testing. I know my brother is involved with some testing this coming week. I know that John Melvin is involved with some other testing. NASCAR is getting a group together. There's a lot going on. I've already been a guinea pig once so to speak. Maybe it helped me. Maybe it created an injury. I can't sit here and tell you yes or no, and I'm not sure anybody can. I know my seat held up great. I know all the guys who have addressed the safety of my cockpit in the Caterpillar car have done a great job, particularly Jimmy Rollins who's worked on my seats and what I call my creature comforts. For me to walk out and be here today and feel as good as I do is a tribute to him and a lot of guys who spend a lot of time inside that car for me.
"In '94 I blew a tire at Charlotte and that was probably the hardest hit I ever took. This is probably the second hardest. I'm not planning on it (relief driver).
"What we've got to figure out, and this is just my opinion. I've been talking to other people about it. The cars are more compact. They're still just as heavy. We're going just as fast or faster. I don't think speed is any issue. I'm not trying to bring up the speed issue. The amount of force we're feeling when we hit these walls are greater than I've ever felt and I've been racing for quite a few years now. I know that Humpy Wheeler has been doing some testing and is going to bring something out pretty shortly. There's something we can put in these areas of these race cars where we've got a lot of air, like between the outside roll bars and the body, between the snout and the outside of the nose where it'll absorb some energy. I think that's one direction we've got to starting looking at.
"If we had something we could have looked at from my accident, I think we would be able to help other drivers down the road. It's a shame we don't have something. Maybe in the future that's something NASCAR will look at. There's some sanctioning forms of racing that have done it (installed black boxes). If we could do it, we would definitely learn a lot in a quick span. "I've always believed in Bill Simpson. I've always used Simpson products. I respect Bill greatly. The other thing was, it was comfortable. The HANS device, and John Melvin told me yesterday they were going to make a smaller version, but when I drive I'm small through here and the steering wheel is not that far away. It would get under my arm pits and limit my movement. The (Simpson device), I never knew it was back there. That made it a lot easier to say this is something I can implement this week. I didn't get to see it (after accident). I think I'll be able to see it today. I think Gary's got it with him. I know Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) and some of my team has seen it. It did tear out more on the left side than the right and that would make sense because the force had me going to the right. I think the actual system did what it was supposed to do. Whether that's the answer or not, I don't know.
"From where I was at this past weekend, I needed some help. I did have Gary, and I talked to Kevin Triplett and I talked to Dr. Baumann. They didn't leave me alone. I had Greg Towles with Caterpillar and Dale Beaver with MRO with me the whole time. If I could have had some help to get me some answers. I know if a child came in or somebody else in a trauma unit, that's more important than me, but it seemed like to me somewhere in those 17 hours they could have found out whether my damn neck was broke or not. Then I could start to recuperate or we take measures for it. That was pretty aggravating.
We were talking, but once I convinced Dale and Greg to leave about 9 or 10 o'clock Sunday night, I was there by myself until about 7. The rotation would change and I all I could hear was we don't have anybody to read these X-rays yet. Once the next shift came in, the doctor wanted new X-rays. That was 10:30 that morning before we got new X-rays done. They said it wasn't a problem and I got the brace off and I could start to stretch and get my mobility back.
"I'm very lucky to be a part of this sport so I'm not going to bash NASCAR. There are things that I could do on a daily basis that would probably be better for my family or myself. I'm not perfect. NASCAR has learned a lot and digested a lot in a quick time span, and I think they're going to continue to adjust things and not ignore things and make the sanctioning body better and make this sport better for everybody. I can't expect them, and I don't think anybody can, expect them to fix everything in a moment.
"It would help (to have a medical director for NASCAR), but at the same time, if the hospital doesn't want their assistance, then you're just creating another wall or another barrier. You've got to have some acceptance of hey, here's somebody here and he wants it done like this. A lot of times it's not going to happen that way. We have experienced that some in the Busch Series in the past.
"I don't think it's as much troubling for me as it is my family, and that's what makes it hard to try to explain to an eight-year-old or a 14-year-old that what I'm doing is something that's healthy for me and it's something I've chosen without making a lot of negatives. I don't want them to be afraid for me. I don't want them to be worried about me. I don't want to affect them in any negative way whatsoever, including my wife and other close friends and family members. I think we all know that motorsports is going to have elements of danger and always will. For some reason or another, it's all mushroomed at one time. It does make it awful difficult and sometimes uncomfortable trying to tell the right answers to your family.
"Ford, GM and Dodge all have had John Melvin at the test sessions in Daytona. All of the corporate manufacturers have had 'em there, and we have had 'em come to our shop. Dodge has paid them to come to our shop and they've shown us things that we can improve on. We have been addressing it. We've been addressing it before Dale Earnhardt's incident.
"Not right now. I don't know what I could change. I won't be wearing another deaccelerator because I'm not sure if it's right or wrong. There will be more information in the upcoming weeks to give us some answers. The only way I could wear a HANS if they make a smaller version. They're telling me next week they should have something I can try. I won't have anything to stop the neck movement (at Richmond)."