safety

Bill Simpson
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Bill Simpson, legendary motorsports safety pioneer, dies at 79

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Motorsports safety pioneer Bill Simpson died Monday after suffering a stroke last week, according to the Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was 79.

Simpson was a 2003 inductee of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, which recognized his long career in racing. He began as a drag racer and moved on to open-wheel racing, finishing 13th in the 1974 Indianapolis 500. After ending his career as a driver, he focused on Simpson Performance Products, which he founded.

One of the company’s primary thrusts was racing safety, of which Simpson became a passionate advocate after breaking both arms in a 1958 drag racing crash.

“Until then, I was like most drivers,” Simpson was quoted as saying in his Motorsports Hall of Fame biography. “The only time I thought about safety was after I’d been hurt. This time, I was hurt bad enough to do a lot of thinking.”

Simpson is credited with helping spearhead many innovations and developed hundreds of safety products, including the first parachute in drag racing, the firesuit, heat shields and several generations of helmets.

His seat belts were used by dozens of famous drivers but also were at the center of the biggest controversy of Simpson’s career. Dale Earnhardt was wearing a Simpson-manufactured seat belt when he was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. An accident report from NASCAR attributed Earnhardt’s skull fracture in part to his Simpson left-lap belt becoming separated.

Simpson filed an $8.5-million defamation of character lawsuit against NASCAR. After receiving death threats (and also having his tires slashed and bullets fired into his home in Charlotte, N.C.), he resigned from Simpson Performance Products in July 2001. But he remained in the safety business, forming Impact Racing.

His vigilance and belief in the quality of his products was legendary, particularly their flame-retardant ability. In 1986, he set himself on fire while wearing one of his suits to prove its efficacy.

How NASCAR drivers keep safe going 200+ mph (VIDEO)

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Dave Burns heads to Roush Fenway Racing and is joined by production engineering manager Tommy Wheeler to discuss the keys behind protecting drivers, which comes down to the law of conservation of energy.

Brian France on Austin Dillon crash aftermath: ‘When we have a problem, we solve it’

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NASCAR Chairman Brian France reaffirmed NASCAR’s dedication to safety in an interview Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, his first public comments regarding Austin Dillon’s last-lap crash Monday morning in the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“We live and breathe delivering the closest, tightest and safest competition in the world and when we have a problem, we solve it,” France said.

The crash sent Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet flying into the catchfence on the frontstretch, destroying about 60 feet of the fence.

Dillon walked away from the accident with a bruised tailbone and forearm while five fans were treated for injuries, including one being taken to the hospital and later released.

“Obviously we want to make sure the cars, whenever a car gets airborne, whatever the circumstances, we are all over that to understand what happened,” France said, noting that discussions and reviews of the incident had begun by 8 a.m. Monday, a little over five hours after the crash occurred at 2:42 a.m. ET.

France touted the efforts and resources of the NASCAR Research and Development Center, which is located in Concord, N.C. The center opened in 2003.

“We’ll look at all the things that are available to us,” France said. “That is one of the beauties of technology and innovation and one of the benefits that we have as the only sanctioning body that has a full-time research and development center that focuses only that. On safety, on getting the rules packages right, etc. We’re the only one that deploys that many resources and that much talent.”

France also told “Tradin’ Paint” that input from NASCAR’s many teams is “harnessed” at the R&D Center to find solutions that could prevent accidents like Dillon’s.

“When we see something different, an accident like we did, that was, wow, very unique last night, we’ll learn from that and we’ll deploy all the talent and resources that we have to try and avoid that in the future,” France said. “That’s what our fans expect us to be doing. Working on (and) solving, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

Long: Daytona crash shows time is now for NASCAR to make bold change

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The list grows and each time a sickening feeling returns. Cars in the fence. Even a Truck.

And fans injured.

While drivers assume risk, fans don’t and shouldn’t.

Yet, Austin Dillon’s crash into the catch fence Monday morning marked the third time since Feb. 2012 fans have been injured at Daytona International Speedway. More than 35 spectators have been hurt in those incidents.

At what point is change necessary to protect fans? At what point must changes be made to keep cars and trucks from flying into the fence like an out-of-control circus act? At what point should radical changes be considered, even if displeasing to spectators, to protect everyone?

Daytona’s catch fence did its job Monday – keeping Dillon’s car from tumbling into the stands. The car cocooned Dillon. Despite going from nearly 200 mph to zero almost instantly, Dillon walked away with only a bruised tailbone and bruised forearm – signs of how far NASCAR’s safety initiatives have come.

What can’t be ignored is another car tumbling into the fence. Even with Daytona moving fans back and keeping them away from the fence, this trend of vehicles crashing into the fence is troubling – and unacceptable.

“I hope all the fans and @austindillon3 are ok,’’ AJ Allmendinger tweeted after the race. “I don’t know how many cars we need to keep sending into the grandstands before we fix this.’’

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Former champion Kurt Busch also is frustrated with this form of roulette racing.

“I’m glad that we have night-time sessions for practice and qualifying (because) we get all day to think about how we’re going to end up all wrecking at the end,’’ he said.

“It’s like a Kentucky Derby. It’s like a Preakness. It’s like a Belmont Stakes except there are 30 horse running down to the finish and the track is only wide for three at a time. Do the math.’’

The math is scary. Consider:

Five fans were injured in Monday’s crash with one treated and released from a local hospital.

In Feb. 2013, more than 30 fans were injured when Kyle Larson’s car sailed into the catch fence during what is now an Xfinity Series race. Fourteen were transported to a hospital.

In Feb. 2012, Joey Coulter crashed into the fence in a Camping World Truck Series race. Two fans were injured. One was treated at a local hospital.

In each of those races, the crash happened either on the race’s last lap or just after the finish – as happened Monday morning. All three crashes came on a green-white-checkered finish.

There’s no doubt that a two-lap restart for the win causes fans to rise in the stands or edge closer to the TV at home, but these accidents are proof that NASCAR should eliminate green-white-checkered finishes at restrictor-plate races.

If a crash happens just before the scheduled end, the race ends under caution. Yes, it’s not the most appealing way to finish a race but it’s better than medics rushing to fans bruised and bloodied by flying shrapnel.

While there’s been a slight uptick in attendance at some of plate races, the possibility of a finish under caution shouldn’t hurt the crowds, which have not returned to their peak from years ago.

Prohibiting a green-white-checkered finish for plate races won’t eliminate the possibility cars or trucks crash into the fence and potentially injure fans. Until NASCAR finds a way to keep those vehicles grounded, the responsible action is to limit the number of times these vehicles can soar out of control and endanger mothers, fathers, brothers sisters, aunts, uncles and others.

When it gets to a final restart, the odds are great an accident is likely. This year’s Daytona 500 went to a two-lap shootout after a two-car crash. What happened next? Instead of the race ending under caution, fans saw eight cars crash. No one was injured that time.

It wasn’t surprising that there was a crash at the end of Monday’s race.

“When we came off Turn 4, I assumed that we were all going to wreck because there was a pretty good draft especially from the guys that were four or five rows back,’’ Jamie McMurray said.

What happened in race winner Dale Earnhardt’s rearview mirror was so frightening that he was near tears until he was told Dillon was OK.

“I haven’t even seen the wreck, and I don’t even know if I want to see it,’’ Earnhardt said.

No one should have to see what happened Monday again.