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Simpson, NASCAR tangle again

The equipment manufacturer arrives at headquarters for a meeting his lawyer says was scheduled. NASCAR says it wasn't.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001

Bill Simpson's turbulent relationship with NASCAR took another strange turn Thursday as the safety equipment manufacturer waited in vain for the apology he seeks.

Simpson, whose company manufactured the seat belt NASCAR said failed in Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash Feb. 18, arrived at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach seeking a meeting with the stock car sanctioning body's top officials. He wanted them to acknowledge that his company's seat belt did not contribute to Earnhardt's death at the Daytona 500.

He waited alone in the lobby for 15 minutes before being told officials couldn't meet with him because he wasn't accompanied by his lawyer.

"I have nothing to say about nothing," Simpson, chairman and CEO of Simpson Performance Products, said as he left the headquarters.

NASCAR spokesman John Griffin told the Orlando Sentinel that Simpson's lawyer sent NASCAR a letter "asking us to refrain from communicating with (Simpson) directly ... and we are going to respect that." Griffin also said Simpson had no Thursday meeting scheduled.

NASCAR's explanation "just defies credulity," Simpson lawyer Bob Horn told the Sentinel from his offices in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

"Bill ... wanted to meet Wednesday but was told they couldn't meet Wednesday and to come down Thursday at 10 o'clock," Horn said.

Horn said he wrote the letter Griffin mentioned but that he had no objection to Thursday's meeting. He said NASCAR could have telephoned him for his approval. "It seems to me that they just stiffed Bill," Horn said.

Consideration of a lawsuit is on hold, he said.

Simpson's bond with NASCAR unraveled quickly in the wake of Earnhardt's death. The day after the racing legend crashed, Simpson told NASCAR vice president Jim France the sanctioning body's rules were at fault for the driver's death and others.

"I told him they were killing people," Simpson told the Charlotte Observer.

Earnhardt was the fourth driver in NASCAR's top three series to die of similar injuries since last May. Simpson told France that NASCAR rules had made cars too rigid, which transferred more shock to drivers in accidents.

"I wanted them to do something," Simpson said. "They needed to fix it. I told him I had a bunch of reporters calling and that I couldn't cover for NASCAR anymore."

Later that week, NASCAR said Earnhardt's seat belt failed. An independent crash expert later concluded the belt did not contribute to Earnhardt's death.

Sunday, the Sentinel published an interview with rescue worker Tommy Propst, who said the seat belt was intact when he reached Earnhardt.

NASCAR attorneys met with Propst on Thursday for 75 minutes.

"He told the exact same story he has always told," said his attorney, Elizabeth Faiella of Winter Park. "They believe Tommy is telling the truth but that he's mistaken that the belt is not severed."

Jim France said NASCAR is not trying to make Simpson a scapegoat.

"That would be crazy," he told the Observer.

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