Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Altered belt revealation stuned drivers

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - According to a report in the New York Daily News on Saturday, stock car driver Dale Earnhardt altered the seat belt in his No. 3 Chevy Monte Carlo before the Daytona 500, possibly playing a hand in his death on the final lap of the race. NASCAR officials said Friday that Earnhardt was found with a broken seat belt after the wreck in which he was killed instantly. However, one source who saw the car after the wreck told the Daily News the seat belt failure was because of alterations to the safety harness ordered by Earnhardt, not because of a design flaw or failure of the mechanism. Another source confirmed the manner in which Earnhardt had the belt installed likely caused its failure. Drivers often make equipment changes so they can be more comfortable in the cockpit. "He just had a different thinking about the way he liked the belts," a NASCAR source told the newspaper. "Dale was so successful, he went through a lot of accidents, he had no real reason to change some of the ways he did things." NASCAR spokesman John Griffin called reports that Earnhardt altered his seat belt speculation, but said stock car racing's governing body will continue investigating the wreckage of the car, which is housed at a NASCAR facility in Charlotte, N.C. The seven-time Winston Cup champion often dismissed newer safety devices, choosing instead to wear an old-style open-faced helmet and had his seat positioned further back in the car than any other driver. Earnhardt might have survived slamming into a concrete wall at the Daytona 500 if his lap belt had not broken, a NASCAR doctor said. Earnhardt, who died instantly Sunday, probably was thrust into the steering wheel because he wasn't fully supported, said Dr. Steve Bohannon, head of emergency medical services at the Daytona track. "Mr. Earnhardt more than likely contacted the steering wheel with his chest and his face," said Bohannon, among several safety workers who tried to save Earnhardt's life as the driver sat slumped in the wreckage. "It appears that probably his chin struck the steering column in such a way that the forces were transferred ... into the base of the skull. "If his restraint system -- his belts -- had held, he would have had a much better chance of survival." A skull fracture ran from the front to the back of Earnhardt's brain. His sternum, eight ribs on the left side and left ankle also were broken by the impact of hitting the wall at about 180 mph on the last turn of the last lap. The seat belt problem -- which officials said they had never seen in a half-century of NASCAR racing -- was disclosed Friday. During a press conference at the North Carolina Speedway, NASCAR President Mike Helton and Winston Cup director Gary Nelson revealed that the webbing on Earnhardt's lap belt broke, not the metal parts that hold it in place. "In 52 years of NASCAR Winston Cup racing, this is the first one of these we've seen," said Nelson. "The integrity of the restraint system was severely compromised by the webbing separating." "We're telling our teams to take a good long look at their seat-belt situation," Griffin said. Winston Cup drivers use a five-point safety harness that has two straps over the driver's shoulders, two around his waist, and one between his legs. They all meet in the middle of the driver's body. Winston Cup director Gary Nelson displays lap belt like one worn by Dale Earnhardt, killed at Daytona Feb. 18. The left side of Earnhardt's belt broke, allowing his chest and chin to slam violently into the steering wheel. "Certainly if his restraint system - the belts - had held, he would've had a much better chance for survival," said Steve Bohannon, Daytona's EMS doctor. NASCAR officials declined to suggest why the seat-belt break may have happened. The part was supplied by Simpson Performance Products. "The Simpson Company was not responsible in any way, shape or form for this accident," said Bill Simpson, founder of the company. "It's a tragedy of the first magnitude." Simpson Performance Products Inc. in Mooresville, insisted that it has never had a problem with its seat belts. Company founder Bill Simpson, a former Indy car driver, implied on Friday that the belt that broke might have been installed incorrectly. "Having tested and produced seat belts for the motorsports industry for more than 43 years, we have never seen a seat belt come apart in the manner that occurred," Simpson said in a statement. "Our seat belts, when properly installed, won't fail." Fellow drivers and teams were shocked by the revelation of a belt break. Jimmy Makar, crew chief for 2000 Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte, has been in stock car racing for 22 years. "I don't know of anybody who has ever heard or seen that before," Makar said. Tony Siscone, a former NASCAR standout whose New Jersey company, Safety Connection, supplies racing equipment, has also never heard of a belt failing. "That belt would cut a human being in half before it would fail."