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What they're saying

By Times staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2001

The postponement of a CART race at Texas Motor Speedway and comments by rescue worker Tommy Propst that Dale Earnhardt's seat belt was intact when the first emergency team reached the car brought another round of criticism of NASCAR:

* * *

Tom Sorenson, Charlotte Observer:

Propst's statement contradicts, and if true decimates, the theory NASCAR began promoting less than a week after the Daytona 500. NASCAR's theory is that a torn, and thus faulty, seat belt might have been, could have been, responsible for Earnhardt's death.

Bill France Jr., the chairman of NASCAR's board of directors, says NASCAR's Gary Nelson found the separated seat belt the day after the Daytona 500. NASCAR president Mike Helton says the seat belt was discovered the night Earnhardt died.

NASCAR's rules have always been flexible. You hope its facts aren't, too.

We know the organization is arrogant. We know now it might be dishonest, too.

If NASCAR fabricated the story, and in effect placed the blame for a legend's death on an innocent man, why would anybody ever believe NASCAR again? If NASCAR is so brittle and so weak that it responds to pressure the way a child does -- um, he did it, not us, him -- what good is it? That's not incompetent. That's corrupt.

NASCAR has run its investigation the way it runs its business. NASCAR is the parent, everybody else is the child. NASCAR has always taken care of its children, and will continue to if only they do what it asks. What does it ask?

That they believe everything it tells them.

* * *

Holly Cain, CBS Sportsline:

Wonder what the NASCAR Winston Cup series drivers thought while recalling their first race at TMS in 1997. There were concerns that the brand new track was unsafe -- a design problem in Turn 4 and bumps in the surface elsewhere.

That show had to go on, however, and 20 cars wrecked on the first lap.

The next year, the speedway made changes to the track, but the drivers complained again -- something they rarely do. Again, the show had to go on and there was another massive pileup, this time on the second lap.

* * *

Monte Dutton,

It is obvious that, from the day after Earnhardt died, NASCAR officials have been evasive, misleading and deceitful.

People who have nothing to hide simply do not try to hide so much. Their actions speak volumes.

If NASCAR really wanted to get to the bottom of what caused Earnhardt's death and the deaths of Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Adam Petty, it would get out of the way. The investigations would be turned completely over to others.

The "experts" would not also be "people with whom we do business" or "people in the garage area." It would not be conducted by NASCAR officials themselves and people who are, in some way, beholden to NASCAR.

For the record, I don't think NASCAR is out-and-out evil. I don't think its officials intentionally created rules that made stock cars dangerous. Somehow, though, an awful point of no return was crossed.

Its complaints about the Orlando Sentinel's investigations would carry some weight were it not for the fact that, over and over, suspicions expressed by that newspaper and others have borne fruit.

Four drivers died partly due to circumstances beyond their control. But NASCAR's wounds have been self-inflicted.

* * *

Jon Saraceno, USA Today:

I have no idea whether NASCAR is suppressing the truth or other valuable information. I tend to doubt there is some sinister coverup. Still, a lingering and troubling perception exists that NASCAR is less than candid. If true, that is unacceptable in matters of life and death.

The powerful racing empire, whose financial success depends on fans and publicly traded companies, mostly has itself to blame for a story that has spun out of control.

Let's just say that the France family isn't into full public disclosure. Of course, there are times when information should be private. Few would argue that NASCAR has been willingly straightforward over the years concerning critical issues. Safety is one.

Obfuscation, evasiveness and arrogance do little to further the search for truth, particularly when drivers' behinds are on the line in the name of commerce.

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