Inside Motor Sports

May 09, 1999

FATAL ATTRACTIONS
More fan deaths put the focus on the need for safety innovations

After three spectators were killed, a nine-year-old girl
critically injured and eight other fans hurt during an Indy
Racing League event at Lowe's Motor Speedway (nee Charlotte
Motor Speedway) last Saturday night, track president H.A.
Wheeler pointed out that "every once in a while, unfortunately,
auto racing raises the black side of itself." Once in a while?
Last Saturday's tragedy, in which a tire and other debris from a
three-car collision sailed over a 15-foot-high fence and landed
in a crowded grandstand, marked the second time in nine months
that spectators were killed as a result of crashes of open-wheel
cars.

Last July 26 three fans were killed and six injured as the
result of a similar accident during CART's U.S. 500 at Michigan
Speedway. Either incident without the other might have passed
into memory as a grievous fluke. Together they should ignite a
public outcry that doesn't dissipate until track officials
devise a plan to prevent further episodes of this nature.

The surest solution is simple but unlikely to happen: The IRL
and CART should stop racing open-wheel cars on high-speed oval
tracks. CART, which runs 11 of its 20 races on road courses,
where average race speeds are 94 mph compared with 140 on ovals,
might survive in such a scenario. The IRL, which runs only on
ovals, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, would have to
rethink how it does business. At the very least the catch fences
in front of the grandstands at oval tracks have to be uniformly
raised to at least 25 feet high (most are now between 14 and 17
feet), and an overhang slanted toward the track should be added.

Open-wheel cars are built to disintegrate rapidly during crashes
in order to dissipate energy and enhance driver safety. Trouble
is, the flying debris, including loose tires that aren't
contained by fenders, can be deadly to bystanders--especially
those at oval layouts, where grandstands sit close to high-speed
portions of the tracks. Also, on road courses, there are fewer
concrete retaining walls to cause the potentially deadly breakup
of cars.

In the wake of last year's Michigan tragedy, officials at Lowe's
Motor Speedway banned fans from sitting in the first seven rows
of its grandstands for IRL races and had fortified its
15-foot-high catch fence with steel cables. Unfortunately, the
debris that caused last Saturday's deaths flew over the fence,
just as it had at Michigan, where 15-foot-high fences were in
place. (Michigan's fences were raised to 17 feet after the
accident.)

To the credit of Wheeler and IRL officials, the North Carolina
race was stopped as soon as it was learned that fans had been
seriously injured. (CART and Michigan Speedway officials were
roundly criticized for allowing the U.S. 500 to continue to its
finish after the deaths there.)

Unlike Formula One, which starting this season requires that its
vehicles have tethers to keep loosened wheels and suspension
parts connected to the car during crashes, neither the IRL nor
CART demands such a system. IRL executive director Leo Mehl says
his organization is concerned that tethered wheels or parts
might snap back and hit drivers in their open cockpits, or that
the tethers could become slingshots that launch wheels into the
stands at even greater velocities. "You must be very cautious,"
Mehl says, "that you don't make regulations that will make
things worse."

The IRL and CART are already troubled enough, owing to their
split in 1996 and CART's ongoing boycott of the Indianapolis
500. However, both organizations must work together to keep
flying car parts out of the stands. Their surviving fans deserve
as much.

CART's Upstart Rookie
MONTOYA DRIVING THEM CRAZY

Juan Pablo Montoya, 23, is the hottest young driver CART has
seen. In only his third start on the circuit, he won last
month's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. With the exception of
Nigel Mansell, who was 39 and coming off a Formula One world
championship when he won in his first CART start, in 1993, no
other driver has won earlier in his CART career than Montoya.
Then on Sunday at Nazareth, Pa., Montoya won again, taking the
lead in the points race, which was won the previous two seasons
by his predecessor at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Zanardi.

"People are saying I'm trying to fill Alex's shoes, but I'm
not," says Montoya, a native of Bogota, Colombia. Last year,
while serving as test driver for the storied Williams F/1 team
and winning Europe's Formula 3000 championship on the side, "I
watched CART races on television. I was a fan of Alex's. I'd go,
Oh! How does he do that? He was actually just playing with the
car. It's great to be in the position he was in, but I can't try
to emulate someone else."

As much as Montoya may hate to admit it, there are similarities
between him and Alex the Great. Zanardi's high-speed
impishness--he caused two other drivers to crash last season at
the Miller Lite 200--landed him on probation for six races near
the end of a three-year CART stint during which he won 15 times
and established himself as the series' most colorful driver.
Montoya drew a similar caution on the eve of his CART debut
after he exhibited unsportsmanlike conduct and took unnecessary
risk in a crash with Michael Andretti during practice for last
month's Japan 500 at Motegi. Montoya and Andretti had a heated
discussion during their postcrash medical exams, and then
Montoya's car owner, Chip Ganassi, and Andretti's car owner,
Carl Haas, had a set-to during which Ganassi reportedly slapped
Haas's cigar out of his mouth. At a luncheon four days before
the Toyota Grand Prix, Mario Andretti, Michael's father, is said
to have confronted Montoya with a long, icy stare and cold
silence. Unfazed, Montoya went on to become the sixth CART
driver since 1996 to win while on probation. Zanardi, of course,
was the fifth.

"I don't want to make enemies, but I don't think I'm here to
cruise around with everyone," says Montoya, sounding a lot like
Zanardi. "I've got to be aiming to win, and if you want to win a
race, you have to beat everyone else."

A Win for Ferrari
LONG DROUGHT ENDS IN ITALY

Michael Schumacher's victory in Sunday's San Marino Grand Prix
was the first win for Ferrari in 16 years at Autodromo Enzo e
Dino Ferrari, the circuit named for the founder of the fabled
auto works and his son.... Before traveling from his home in
Cornelius, N.C., to the California 500, Jeremy Mayfield stopped
in Louisville to drive his Taurus in a ceremonial lap on the
Churchill Downs track as part of the Kentucky Derby week
festivities. Just as Mayfield fired up his 750 horses for the
ride, trainer Bob Baffert dared him to cut a couple of doughnuts
at the finish line. A reluctant Mayfield said that maybe Baffert
should drive. "Don't ask me twice," replied Baffert, a NASCAR fan.

COLOR PHOTO: TOM COPELAND/AP Last week's grandstand tragedy was the second in nine months involving open-wheel racers. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Montoya is the first rookie to lead CART's points race since Nigel Mansell did so in 1993.

Gentlemen, Check Your Engines

Of the 52 drivers who have at least one Winston Cup start this
season, 27 have never won on the circuit. The king of futility
is Michael Waltrip, who has run 406 races without ever taking
the checkered flag. Of the drivers who have won at least once,
here are the 10 who have been away from victory lane the longest.

DRIVER VICTORIES DATE OF LAST WIN WINLESS STREAK

Dave Marcis 5 1982, Richmond 454
Brett Bodine 1 1990, N. Wilkesboro 275
Derrike Cope 2 1990, Dover 260
Ken Schrader 4 1991, Dover 245
Darrell Waltrip 84 1992, Darlington 205
Jimmy Spencer 2 1994, Talladega 146
Morgan Shepherd 4 1993, Atlanta 143
Bill Elliott 40 1994, Darlington 137
Kyle Petty 8 1995, Dover 120
Ward Burton 1 1995, Rockingham 103

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)