NASCAR Moves To Prevent Stuck Throttles
August 1, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
The stock car sanctioning body Tuesday told its Winston Cup teams to install a stop on the car's throttle assembly and an on-off switch on the steering wheel, within reach of the driver's thumb.
The new rules take effect with the opening of practice on Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400.
Although no conclusions have been reached, there has been considerable speculation that crashes on the same turn at the same track in which Petty and Irwin were killed were the direct result of stuck throttles.
Petty, a 19-year-old fourth-generation race driver, died May 12 in a crash in Turn 3 at New Hampshire International Speedway during a practice for a Busch Grand National race.
Irwin, a regular in the Winston Cup series, was killed in a crash during practice on July 7 at nearly the same spot on the one-mile Loudon, N.H., oval.
Kevin Triplett, director of operations for NASCAR, stressed that investigators are still looking for the cause of both accidents.
"We continue to look at things, to go through things and talk to people," Triplett said Tuesday. "We continue to try to piece things together. It's a difficult thing to recreate following an accident what happened because of damage to this piece of the car and that piece of the car."
But Triplett said talks with crew chiefs, drivers and car owners led to Tuesday's rule changes, which he said were at least a step in the right direction.
"In trying to find something that was effective across the board and comfortable across the board, these were the two areas that could be done, and easily be done, before this weekend," he said.
Triplett pointed out that a number of cars already have a throttle stop, which keeps the rod that controls the throttle from going past the point where it can stick open even if the gas pedal is released.
NASCAR has previously required a shutoff switch on the dash of each car, and a few teams already had them on the steering column or steering wheel, Triplett added.
"These teams are run by competent, intelligent people and we have been getting a lot of feedback," he said. "It's a difficult process, but it's one you go through to try to find the answers. It's one we do every day, and not just because of these two tragic accidents, but, hopefully, so no more occur."
Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield said the new rules make good sense.
"They don't take anything away from the race cars, they don't affect competition, but they can save you from a pretty hard crash," he said. "You have to applaud NASCAR for taking steps like these.
"Let's face it, it's not how fast you go, it's how fast you stop. If you can hit something at a slower speed, that's got to be good. If you have more time when you're having problems -- say you're aimed at the wall or something like that -- to correct a little bit, then this is a good thing. Even if you hit at a better angle, then that's got to be good, too."
Triplett said NASCAR will continue to look at more ways to increase driver safety.
Some drivers have suggested the use of a toe clip to manually pull a stuck throttle back, but Triplett said, "There is a point in time when a toe clip is not effective. Some crew chiefs have told us you couldn't bring it back with a sledge hammer when it gets beyond a certain point."
Several energy-absorbing wall systems also have been suggested to NASCAR. But Triplett said, "A lot of things we've been presented with are still just ideas. There's nothing to show how effective they are.
"We're not 100 percent convinced what's available right now that we've seen is the right answer."