Nelson Getting Defensive
March 4, 2001 | 10:00 A.M. EST
On Saturday, NASCAR Winston Cup director Gary Nelson was in no mood to talk about all the speculation surrounding Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the Daytona 500. In a press conference at Rockingham last Friday morning, officials with NASCAR said they believed the cause of his death came as a result of a broken left lap belt in his famous No. 3 Goodwrench Chevrolet.
According to Nelson, Earnhardt’s fatal injuries were the result of one of the five belts on the safety harness breaking apart, allowing his body to launch forward and to the right at the time of impact. Specifically, NASCAR said, Earnhardt’s chin made heavy contact with his steering wheel that resulted in the basilar skull fracture that ended the life of "The Intimidator."
When asked for more details on the ongoing investigation, Nelson was tight-lipped, to say the least.
"I have no facts to update to the media in our investigation," Nelson said. "We have many roads we’re going down, but we have no clear answers beyond what we’ve already stated…. All I can say, is from NASCAR’s standpoint, we have to look at everything. We have to look at every point from every situation, and we have to approach it in a way where we don’t do any harm.
"There are a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacks in the world. There are answers that seem clear on Monday morning about a lot of things, but NASCAR has to do it in a way where we’re not doing any harm if we were to mandate something…. When we have facts, we will reveal them."
Nelson also couldn’t say if, or when, NASCAR would find a clear answer.
"It would be great to walk into John Hopkins (Hospital) and tell those guys, 'You guys have been working on a cure for cancer long enough. How about giving us the answer?'" Nelson said. "I would love to be able to do that because they’ve been working on it a long time. They’re working on it very hard and I trust one day they’ll come up with the answer – maybe not tomorrow but soon."
The biggest question mark surrounding the safety issue is why NASCAR doesn’t make the results of internal matters public, not even when a legend like Earnhardt loses his life.
"It’s been 52 years of work in progress, and it’s continuing as we speak," Nelson said. "We’re continuing to look into all of these parts of the car and the technology as it changes to protect the drivers. I can’t give you an explanation other than we’ve seen unfortunate things happen in streak, other times we go a while and nothing bad happens. There is no explanation to those kinds of things. Each accident had its own unique set of circumstances."
When asked whether he could say with total confidence that Earnhardt’s broken seat belt was indeed the reason for his death, Nelson didn’t have a lot to say.
"Our investigation has not revealed anymore facts, and NASCAR is only going to speak in facts," Nelson said. "You can find other people that speak in speculation, you can find a whole lot of them, but we’re only going to speak in facts. We don’t know anything other than we had a broken seat belt on Dale Earnhardt’s car. That’s something we’re trying to look into and understand."
When pressed on the issue, Nelson became angry at the line of questions and ended the discussion.
"You’re talking to Gary Nelson of NASCAR, and Gary Nelson is only going to talk in facts," Nelson said. "I have no more facts to update to the media from our press conference at Rockingham last week."
In the waiting time, unfortunately, there will be a lot more Monday-morning quarterbacks who simply won’t allow Earnhardt's death to be swept under the rug.