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3 skydivers injured before race

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Three Army skydivers were injured Sunday when strong wind knocked them to the ground before the race.

Two jumpers were in stable condition at a hospital and the other was in good condition.

Eight jumpers from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute team from Fort Bragg came sailing into the track area, trailing red smoke as part of the prerace activities for the Subway 400.

With wind up to 40 mph, one jumper was carried away from his targeted landing on the track and into the infield, where he appeared to bounce off the top of a tractor-trailer before landing on the ground, his chute caught on the antenna of a van.

He was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where he was in good condition, a nursing administrator said.

Another jumper sailed into the garage area and bounced off the top of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s hauler. He landed between race team trucks and a fence.

That jumper and another jumper who landed hard on the asphalt of the track were taken to Womack Army Hospital in Fayetteville for treatment of minor injuries. They were in stable condition, said Barbara Ashley, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

JUNIOR'S STRUGGLES: A week after having one of the dominant cars at Daytona, Earnhardt had one of the worst at Rockingham.

He was involved in five of the race's seven cautions.

From the start, he radioed to his crew that he didn't like the feel of the shocks that had been installed on his No.8 Chevrolet. Despite numerous pit adjustments, the car was never a contender, and he finished 33rd.

"We have always struggled here before, and we thought we had figured some things out at a test a few weeks ago," Earnhardt said.

But an early bump with Jeff Gordon damaged his car and made for a long day.

"It felt to me like it was going to crash or spin out every lap," Earnhardt said.

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