Thursday, May 8, 2003

Nadeau's crash renews safety concerns

More tracks in line for soft-wall technology

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Jerry Nadeau's accident at Richmond International Raceway was the most violent wreck NASCAR has seen since installing black box-style data recorders in cars two years ago.

The crash far surpassed the 80 times the force of gravity reading NASCAR got after Kyle Petty's wreck at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, which was the hardest hit the sanctioning body had seen previously.

As Nadeau remains hospitalized with serious head, rib and lung injuries, NASCAR's safety debate has reopened after a relatively quiet period following vast improvements since the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt.

"There is no question we've made tremendous improvements over the past two years," driver Jeff Burton said. "But it's unrealistic to think that in a dangerous sport, things are immediately better. When a wreck like Jerry's happens, people in our society tend to be impatient and they think the answers should be there tomorrow."

Gary Nelson, NASCAR's competition director, said the angle at which Nadeau hit the wall contributed to the violence.

"It was a very flat hit on the driver side, which is pretty unusual," Nelson said. "It was an almost perfectly flat hit, so there was a tremendous energy spike because he didn't have a bumper or something else hit first.

"This one had no initial impact that would have softened the hit."

There are a few solutions that could help, including installing the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier at Richmond.

So far the soft wall is used only at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and on the inside wall at Talladega Superspeedway. But NASCAR has found that the shorter tracks are just as dangerous and need the wall. Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin were both killed in wrecks at New Hampshire International Speedway, and Kyle Petty had the hard hit at Bristol.

Nadeau was the latest driver to get hurt at Richmond: Johnny Benson broke ribs there last year, Derrike Cope broke his leg, and the hit that initially injured Sterling Marlin's neck and sidelined him for the season was also at RIR.

NASCAR wants the soft walls installed at New Hampshire and Richmond by this fall, and tested the SAFER barrier Tuesday at the University of Nebraska's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility.

Dr. Dean Sicking, who runs the Nebraska facility, will need up to 30 days to go over the data and determine if the walls are ready for the short tracks.

The drivers are content to wait rather than install something before it is ready.

"I've seen video of what happens with a soft wall before it's ready," Burton said. "It's not pretty. I want soft walls but definitely not until they're ready."

GORDON'S DOUBLE: Robby Gordon, who plans to race May 25 in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, has tried the difficult 1,100-mile day three times since 1997.

The former open-wheel driver, now a NASCAR Winston Cup regular with Richard Childress Racing, has gotten the latest opportunity to do "The Double" with the new Andretti-Green Racing team headed by Michael Andretti.

Last year, though, Gordon finished eighth at Indy despite a pit fire that put him behind early. He then flew to Charlotte and wound up 16th.

"I think the hardest part last year, I will be honest, I did get a cramp in my stomach (during the 600)," Gordon said. "I did not expect to get a cramp under my left rib section in my stomach. And I am sure that was because of the G-forces and dehydration.

"Last year, I did not take the IV between the races. I felt so good after Indy and had that adrenaline running. I felt I was fine and I refused it. This year I will take the IV."

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