NASCAR Finds Investigation Help

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Officials with NASCAR announced Monday the sanctioning body has agreed to let an outside source help in their investigation into the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500.

Still not willing to answer any questions surrounding the death of ‘The Intimidator’ on the last lap of the Feb. 18 season-opener at Daytona, officials with NASCAR called an impromptu press briefing Monday afternoon to make a statement, but would not answer any specific questions.

NASCAR revealed in a press conference held at Rockingham the week following Daytona the tragedy was likely a result of a broken left lap belt in Earnhardt’s famous black No. 3 Chevy. Earnhardt died from injuries to his head.

“When we encounter situations that are new or unique, it’s both appropriate and necessary to obtain additional perspectives,” said Mike Helton, president of NASCAR. “This review is a result of just that – given the circumstances surrounding the occupant restraint system in Dale Earnhardt’s tragic accident.”

NASCAR officials said the outside panel will be comprised of a team of experts from around the country who will be working through the cooperation of NASCAR.

The new team of experts will consist of an international occupant-safety restraint analysis and research corporation; independent experts in crash investigation and data analysis from a nationally-recognized automobile crash analysis and research facility; and medical/biomechanical engineering specialists.

Helton said he expected the Earnhardt investigation to be completed around August, more than six months after the fatal crash. All findings will be released at one time.

Some of the new safety measures include, but are not limited to, crash model development and testing; crash model simulation; sled and real crash tests; impact barrier testing; data analysis and cross check; and bio mechanical/medical analysis.

“Safety has always been the top priority for NASCAR and all participants in NASCAR-sanctioned racing, and while we have confidence in the sport’s historic investigative process and ongoing safety initiatives, it’s important we continue to develop new and better techniques, resources and information for the sport’s safety effort,” Helton continued. “We’re confident this review will make a large contribution toward that goal. Along with this review, we continue to solicit and rely on input from our core group in the industry, including car owners, drivers, crew chiefs, crew members, officials, and manufacturers.

“No different than most other areas or aspects of our sport, safety has and will continue to be an evolving - and the most important - process. If you look back over the past 53 years, we have not stood still with safety. In fact, there have been more than 200 safety-related improvements addressed in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series rulebook alone in just the past 10 years. Clearly, there have been significant advancements in the safety of this sport with many different individuals and groups playing key parts. NASCAR remains open to any legitimate resource to assist us in any investigative or ongoing safety process when deemed appropriate. This accident-reconstruction review does just that.

“Everyone involved in this process is committed to a sense of urgency, but we must also move forward in a thorough, careful and complete manner. We feel that only through a complete review combining the disciplines of engineering, dynamics, kinematics and bio-medical mechanics can we have a comprehensive understanding based on solid, factual information and data, even if it takes longer to obtain than we would like.”

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