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Drivers want improved wall at New Hampshire

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


DARLINGTON, S.C. -- The talk is getting louder.

Two weeks before NASCAR returns to New Hampshire International Speedway -- where Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty were killed in separate accidents -- four of the Winston Cup series' top drivers spoke about safety.

On Saturday at Darlington Raceway, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Rusty Wallace said they would be disappointed if something, such as the installation of soft walls, was not done before the New Hampshire 300 on Sept. 17.

"There's no reason why we can't do something to protect the walls," Gordon said. "If New Hampshire doesn't do something to the racetrack, whether it works or not -- just the effort of putting something in there that hopefully does work -- I think they're going to get a lot of backlash because I know a lot of drivers said they really think something should be done at a place like that."

Petty was killed May 12 and Irwin on July 7 when their cars slammed into the Turn 3 wall. A stuck accelerator is suspected to have caused both crashes, which prompted NASCAR to mandate two engine-kill switches be installed in every car. Drivers agree NASCAR is looking into the problem, but they say the issue of lining walls with energy-absorbing material needs to be addressed soon.

"The racetrack has a responsibility," Jarrett said. "The only time you're (by the wall) is if you're in trouble, and if you're in trouble, why not have something up there to help out? If there's not something up there when we show up there ... I'm going to be very disappointed."

NASCAR has explored soft-wall technology but has seen nothing that would work. "I think that most every driver in this garage area will be totally blown away ... if we go back to New Hampshire and those walls aren't lined with that Styrofoam," Wallace said. NASCAR chief operating officer Mike Helton reiterated Saturday that nothing was wrong with the track. "It is not a track design issue because we have raced there along with other forms of motorsports for so long and so many miles and so many laps," he said. "But we continue to look at everything from the cars themselves and different parts."

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