By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001
CART veteran Mauricio Gugelmin is the latest driver to learn first-hand about the benefits of wearing a head and neck restraint device after he crashed Friday during a practice for the Firestone Firehawk 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
CART, which postponed the race after 21 of 25 drivers experienced vertigo and other problems from excessive G forces on the high-banked track, requires all drivers wear the HANS device at oval tracks this season.
"Comparing from once the leather helmets were dropped to the current helmets," he said, "I think this (HANS) is just another step like that."
Gugelmin, who lives in Coral Gables and is the president of the Championship Driver's Association, said he experienced 66 Gs and 113 Gs during two impacts with the wall.
"That's the highest G-load ever sustained without major injury to a driver," said Gugelmin, who sustained only bruises. "So to be able to walk out of the hospital on Friday afternoon is quite remarkable."
Gugelmin suggested Tuesday that every driver wear the HANS on every type of race track CART visits, including road courses.
NASCAR and IRL support use of, but do not require, head and neck restraint devices that help prevent basal skull fractures.
MORE SAFETY: NASCAR confiscated the head and neck restraint Winston Cup driver Ward Burton was wearing when he crashed during the NAPA Auto Parts 500 on Sunday at California Speedway.
It also examined Burton's wrecked car.
The driver of the No. 22 Dodge was hospitalized Sunday with a concussion and neck pain. The impact was substantial enough to stretch his left-side seat belts about 11/4 inches.
Burton was released from Loma Linda University Medical Center Monday and is questionable for Saturday's race at Richmond International Raceway.
Crew chief Tommy Baldwin said the decelerator device distributed by Simpson Performance Products and worn by Burton did its job. The Simpson decelerator is based on a piece of rock climbing equipment called a "screamer" and was developed by a NASA engineer.
"It did everything it was supposed to do," Baldwin said. "Now, whether it moved fast enough or slow enough, that is what someday we need to determine. We don't know what would have happened had he not had that device on."
TRACK REPAIRS: CART chief executive officer Joe Heitzler said attempts to reschedule the Firestone Firehawk 600 were slowed when Texas Motor Speedway officials told him the track would be closed for repairs and upgrades from June to September.
NASCAR and the IRL also use the 1.5-mile track, which was reshaped and repaved in the spring of 1998 after problems with the track surface.
Sarona Winfrey, director of media relations for TMS, said the track is exploring the possibility of stabilizing dirt that is settling beneath the turns.
"There's been like little dips (in the turns) and we've done some grinding out on the track and different things to keep things smooth," Winfrey said. "This was not a mandate by NASCAR or for that matter any other sanctioning body. This is something that we had apparently been looking at. That June to September is a just-in-case sort of thing."
PENALTIES: NASCAR handed down more than $8,000 worth in fines to seven Winston Cup crew chiefs on Wednesday.
The most significant was a two-race suspension and a $5,000 fine for Mike Beam, crew chief for Ricky Craven. NASCAR penalized him for not having the manufacturer's date visible on the seat belts during inspection last weekend at California Speedway. He also was fined $500 for a roof camera shell that did not conform the week before at Talladega.
Four crew chiefs were fined $500 for illegal fuel cell racks (Robin Pemberton, Michael McSwain, Tony Eury, Scott Eggleston) and one each for an illegal roof camera shell (Joe Garone) and lightened lug nuts (Paul Andrews).
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.