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Track owner backs up safety talk

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


NASCAR anticipates that its investigation into the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt will take until August to complete.

But like many others involved in the sport, Speedway Motorsports president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler isn't sitting on his hands. Wednesday, he presented an energy absorbing bumper he believes might help prevent on-track deaths.

Lew Composites, a Nevada-based company working with Wheeler, designed the 16-pound device to soften the energy that four NASCAR drivers -- Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Earnhardt -- probably felt when they crashed right-front first and died. All four sustained head and neck injuries.

Wheeler's device is similar to the attenuator in Indy cars -- a bumper composed of aluminum and carbon fiber attached to the back of the gearbox -- and will cost less than $6,000 to manufacture. General Motors is scheduled to test the bumper, which fits underneath the car's sheet metal, and relay its findings to NASCAR.

"Him running a racetrack and being a track guy ... I'm sure not going to say he's the wrong guy to do something," former Winston Cup champion Rusty Wallace said, referring to Wheeler, whose company owns Lowe's Motor Speedway and other tracks. "You've got to commend him for thinking about safety.

"If he comes up with something, he can let NASCAR know what they found out and maybe move right along. Sometimes two heads are better than one."

But more than two heads are tackling this problem. Cymat Corp., a Canadian company, is developing a crush box made of its stabilized aluminum foam, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The company's Web site says the aluminum foam "collapses at constant load with large displacements -- ideal for absorbing energy."

"Obviously, if we saw something that was better, the owners, the drivers and the crew chiefs would talk to NASCAR about it," said Frank Stoddard, crew chief of the No. 99 Ford driven by Jeff Burton. "As far as me just seeing it and putting it in the car, no. We'd have to see some testing done on it."

THE WINSTON: Of the many races Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won, the Winston last year remains the most meaningful.

Who can forget the image of the elder Earnhardt celebrating with his son after jogging across the infield grass at Lowe's Motor Speedway?

The son can't.

"The winner's circle last year was the happiest time I think I ever spent with my dad," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It was just a great time. I felt like I had really done something. And I knew dad felt the same way.

"He said, 'This is cool.' He didn't have a plane to catch, so we just hung out there and had one hell of a time. The stage was right on the track near the crowd, and it felt like a rock concert out there."

LOGISTICS: Tony Stewart isn't the only busy driver this month. CART drivers who qualified for the Indy 500 starting field have a double of their own with the Firestone Firehawk 500 on Friday in Motegi, Japan.

Reigning CART champion Gil de Ferran will leave for Indianapolis immediately after the race, which is Saturday in Japan, in the hope of arriving in time for practice Sunday.

"The team has staffed itself properly to be able to deal with all this workload," he said. "So far, everything is going very, very smoothly. I have confidence that all the plans have been made correctly."

ODDS AND ENDS: Busch Grand National regular Bobby Hamilton Jr. will drive in place of Joe Nemechek in the Winston Open. Nemechek broke his right shoulder in a crash Tuesday. ... NHRA pro stock motorcycle rider Angelle Savoie has won the past three events at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. Fourstraight would be a record. ... The NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing Series stops at Gainesville Raceway this weekend for the inaugural B & M Racing NHRA Import Nationals. Eliminations are Sunday.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Winston Cup

WHAT: The Winston.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying (FX, 7 p.m.); Saturday, race (FX, 7:45 p.m.); Concord, N.C.

2000 WINNER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

FAST FACTS: The Winston does not count in the series standings. Those eligible for the race are winners from last year and this year, past Winston Cup champions, the Winston winners of the past five years and the Winston Open winner.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Dale Jarrett, 1,559; 2. Jeff Gordon, 1,545; 3. Rusty Wallace, 1,497; 4. Johnny Benson, 1,480; 5. Sterling Marlin, 1,421; 6. Ricky Rudd, 1,411; 7. Steve Park, 1,387; 8. Tony Stewart, 1,387; 9. Bobby Hamilton, 1,309; 10. Earnhardt Jr., 1,302.

Busch Grand National

WHAT: Nazareth 200.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m.; Sunday, race (FX, 1 p.m.); Nazareth, Pa.

2000 WINNER: Ron Hornaday.

FAST FACTS: Tim Fedewa won the race in 1995 and 1998. Fedewa is the only driver to win more than once. Defending series champion Jeff Green has 66 top-five finishes in the series. He is the only active driver to rank in the top 10 in that category.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Kevin Harvick, 1,786; 2. Green, 1,730; 3. Jason Keller, 1,652; 4. Greg Biffle, 1,641; 5. Mike McLaughlin, 1,558; 6. Jeff Purvis, 1,458; 7. Jimmie Johnson, 1,441; 8. Tony Raines, 1,430; 9. Kenny Wallace, 1,388; 10. Scott Wimmer, 1,346.

Craftsman Trucks

WHAT: Jelly Belly 200.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Saturday, qualifying, 5:15 p.m; Sunday, race (ESPN, 4 p.m.); Fountain, Colo.

2000 WINNER: Greg Biffle.

FAST FACTS: The race has had three different winners and three different pole-sitters in its three years. The inaugural event featured the first "live" pit stop in the series. Chevrolets won the first two races at the track.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Scott Riggs, 1,015; 2. Joe Ruttman, 930; 3. Terry Cook, 911; 4. Travis Kvapil, 873; 5. Rick Crawford, 863; 6. Randy Tolsma, 858; 7. Jack Sprague, 854; 8. Ted Musgrave, 824; 9. Ricky Hendrick, 821; 10. Bill Bigley, 701.

CART

WHAT: Firestone Firehawk 500.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Today, qualifying, 11:30 p.m.; Friday, race, 10:30 p.m. (Ch. 28, Saturday, 1 p.m., taped); Motegi, Japan.

2000 WINNER: Michael Andretti.

FAST FACTS: This is the fourth time CART has raced in Japan. Adrian Fernandez set the race record of 176.195 mph last year. Fernandez won the inaugural race, in 1998.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. (tie) Cristiano da Matta, 40; Paul Tracy, 40; 3. (tie) Gil de Ferran, 30; Jimmy Vasser, 30; 5. (tie) Kenny Brack, 29; Helio Castroneves, 29; 7. (tie) Andretti, 20; Scott Dixon, 20; 9. (tie) Dario Franchitti, 12; Tony Kanaan, 12.

NHRA

WHAT: Matco Tools Supernationals.

WHEN/WHERE/TV: Friday, qualifying, 5 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m. (ESPN2, 7 p.m, taped); Sunday, eliminations, 11 a.m. (ESPN2, 8 p.m., taped); Englishtown, N.J.

2000 WINNERS: Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock), and Angelle Seeling (Pro Stock Bike).

FAST FACTS: Englishtown has held the event since 1971. In 1998, Joe Amato increased the national speed record in Top Fuel to 323.50 mph in his quarterfinals victory. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Tom Hammonds, who qualified for his first NHRA event in 1997, will be in the Pro Stock field.

POINTS STANDINGS: (Top Fuel) 1. Mike Dunn, 576; 2. Larry Dixon, 551; 3. Kenny Bernstein, 507; 4. Kalitta, 502; 5. Darrell Russell, 472; 6. Gary Scelzi, 409; 7. Tony Schumacher, 372; 8. Doug Herbert, 319; 9. David Grubnic, 308; 10. Rhonda Hartman-Smith, 283. (Funny Car) 1. John Force, 530; 2. Ron Capps, 502; 3. Bruce Sarver, 501; 4. Frank Pedregon, 423; 5. Whit Bazemore, 416; 6. Del Worsham, 393; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., 354; 8. Dean Skuza, 351; 9. Gary Densham, 332; 10. Al Hofmann, 298. (Pro Stock) 1. Jim Yates, 498; 2. Warren Johnson, 465; 3. Kurt Johnson, 460; 4. Jeg Coughlin, 445; 5. Mark Pawuk, 416; 6. Bruce Allen, 356; 7. Mark Osborne, 340; 8. Ron Krisher, 327; 9. Brad Jeter, 324; 10. Mike Edwards, 310. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) 1. Matt Hines, 312; 2. Antron Brown, 253; 3. Angelle Savoie, 246; 4. Craig Treble, 246; 5. Geno Scali, 183; 6. Reggie Showers, 159; 7. Steve Johnson, 138; 8. Shawn Gann, 118; 9. Joe DeSantis, 117; 10. GT Tonglet, 105. (Pro Stock Truck) 1. Greg Stanfield, 479; 2. Bob Panella Jr., 465; 3. Randy Daniels, 463; 4. Jeff Gracia, 376; 5. Scott Perin, 223; 6. Don Smith, 208; 7. Todd Patterson, 201; 8. Jeff Naiser, 178; 9. Mike Coughlin, 178; 10. Mike Corvo Jr., 171.

Formula One

UP NEXT: Monaco Grand Prix, May 27, Monte Carlo.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Michael Schumacher, 42; 2. David Coulthard, 38; 3. Rubens Barrichello, 18; 4. Ralf Schumacher, 12; 5. Nick Heidfeld, 8; 6. Jarno Trulli, 7; 7. (tie) Juan Montoya, 6; Heinz-Harald Frentzen, 6; 9. Olivier Panis, 5; 10. (tie) Jacques Villeneuve, 4; Kimi Raikkonen, 4; Mika Hakkinen, 4.

IRL

UP NEXT: Indianapolis 500, May 27, Indianapolis.

POINTS STANDINGS: 1. Sam Hornish Jr., 136; 2. Eliseo Salazar, 105; 3. Scott Sharp, 96; 4. Jeff Ward, 82; 5. Felipe Giaffone, 80; 6. Buddy Lazier, 73; 7. Sarah Fisher, 72; 8. Buzz Calkins, 71; 9. Greg Ray, 69; 10. Billy Boat, 63.

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