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Truck series driver Roper dies after crash

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Tony Roper, a veteran driver who was critically injured Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, died Saturday at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital.

A 35-year-old native of Fair Grove, Mo., Roper suffered a severe neck injury that stopped the blood flow to his brain.

He was left without any brain function and died at 10:55 a.m., said Dr. John LaNoue, the attending trauma surgeon.

Roper was involved in a three-truckcrash during the early laps of the Craftsman Truck series' O'Reilly 400. His truck glanced off another truck and ricocheted into a concrete wall on the frontstretch.

The fatality was the first at the speedway, which opened in 1997.

Pole-sitter Bryan Reffner won the race, passing Andy Houston with six laps to go for his first victory in 112 career starts. Greg Biffle claimed the points title, even though he completed just 81 of the 167 laps and finished 25th.

The death was the third in five months for NASCAR. Busch driver Adam Petty and Winston Cup driver Kenny Irwin were killed at New Hampshire International Speedway on May 12 and July 7, respectively.

"If you say it's a coincidence, it sounds flippant," speedway general manager Eddie Gossage said. "But I think this is a coincidence. This was totally unlike the other accidents in what caused it."

Petty and Irwin each died in single-car crashes during practice. Stuck throttles were suspected in both fatalities. Roper's crash did not appear to have a mechanical cause.

"I've never seen a car or truck turn and take a bite and go head-on into the wall like that," Gossage said. "Usually it glances off the wall. Last night, it was a head-on crash into the wall."

Rescue workers had to cut the roof off Roper's truck to remove him. He was unconscious and unresponsive at the scene, and he never regained consciousness after being flown by air ambulance to the hospital.

"We appreciate the show of support from the other drivers and teams who came here to be with us (Friday) night," said Dean Roper, Tony's father. "We appreciate everybody who helped him along in racing and all the friends he has made as a result. He was a good little racer."

Dean Roper, who was a successful racer in the Midwest, was at the race and the hospital with his son.

Tony Roper was a veteran of 60 series starts, with a best finish of second at Indianapolis Raceway Park in July 1998.

He started this season as the driver of the Washington-Erving Motorsports entry in the Busch series but qualified for only three races before the team shut down. In July, he rejoined the Mittler Motorsports Truck series team, for which he drove in the mid-'90s.

The only fatality in the Craftsman Truck series occurred in 1997, when John Nemechek died after a crash at Homestead.

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