Ibristol Notebook:/I Friday

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BRISTOL, Tenn. - Elliott Sadler popped the question Thursday, and girlfriend Lisa Tollett said yes.

Sadler, who scored his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in March, asked the current Miss Tennessee USA to marry him. Tollett put a big smile on Sadler’s face by saying yes.

“I was nervous,” Sadler said. “Nobody taught me how to do this or told me how. I had great ideas: put it in a wine bottle, get her drunk first, and the ring is at the bottom. She’ll surely say yes then.

“We got to sign autographs together (Thursday) night. She got to sign as Miss Tennessee and I signed as Elliott whatever. As soon as she got here, I got down on one knee and did the gentleman thing like you’re supposed to do. If I didn’t do that, my momma would’ve killed me.

“She was shaking, we were both shaking. That’s as nervous as I’ve ever been. Qualifying and all, no problem no more after going through that.”

Sadler met Tollett at Bristol four years ago when she served as Miss Food City, shaking her hand as he walked across the stage during driver introductions for a Busch Series race.

Randy LaJoie had embarrassed Sadler, who commented on Tollett’s good looks, but Sadler was smitten, and got Tollet’s phone number through a public-relations representative. The number was wrong, but Sadler didn’t give up, finally getting Tollett’s right number.

Bristol Motor Speedway is “Heaven on Earth,” according to Sadler.

“I like it even more now,” Sadler said. “I was able to win a Busch race here, I was able to win a Winston Cup race here, I met my fiancée Lisa here, and now we’ve been engaged here. A lot of good things have happened to me here in Bristol, Tenn. This place will always be pretty special to me.”

Safety on Marlin’s mind: Sterling Marlin had a few choice words for his son Steadman earlier this week. Seems that Steadman disobeyed his father last week at Michigan and didn’t wear driving gloves.

“Steadman is 20 and knows more than everybody I guess,” Sterling said. “I told him if I caught him running without gloves I was going to park the car. I didn’t see him do it, but they said last week he didn’t have his gloves on. I kinda put a foot in his butt this week and said, ‘You’re going to wear gloves.’ You just don’t take nothing for granted, that it’s not going to happen to me.”

Marlin has suggested another safety item to NASCAR, but so far nothing has been done. Marlin crashed at Bristol several years ago, and his car caught fire. Marlin hopes an automatic fire extinguisher can be used on Cup cars.

“The car is on fire, you’re disoriented, and you’re not looking for a fire extinguisher,” Marlin said. “We need something like the drag cars that’s automatic and goes off at certain degrees. It’s mounted in the trunk. It’s inexpensive, and it would help keep the risk of fire down. It’s not mandatory. You can put it in if you want to. We don’t run it, but I think it ought to be mandatory. You get on fire and want out of the car, you’re not hunting a fire extinguisher.”

HANS a life-saver: With all the talk about head-and-neck restraint systems, do they really work? Mike Skinner, who wears the HANS device after Chevrolet bought one for him, thinks they do.

Skinner crashed hard into the Turn 1 wall at Chicagoland Speedway in July, and he was asked Friday if the HANS saved his life.

“Personally, from my heart, yes I do,” Skinner said.

Skinner also said he feels safe in his race car.

“The RCR cars, as we saw at Chicagoland, are real safe race cars,” Skinner said. “We took a hit there when that tire blew out, I didn’t know if I was fixing to breath my last breath or not… I believe our cars are safe.”

Black-box technology: One of the few safety improvements NASCAR announced at Tuesday’s release of the Dale Earnhardt crash report was the use of crash data recorders on Winston Cup cars next year.

While NASCAR didn’t mandate the “black boxes,” the move, though a long time coming, was generally seen as a good one. Crash data recorders have been used in CART for many years, with Ford providing the impact-senor boxes.

General Motors, through its GM Racing Safety Program, claims to have developed the first black boxes for race cars in the early 1990s. Dr. John Melvin, who is helping lead NASCAR’s analysis of seat belts, helped design GM’s first black box with engineer John Pierce.

A company called Instrumented Sensor Technology produced a battery-powered impact recorder called the EDR-3 that was used to monitor shipments of supercomputers and Space Shuttle solid-rocket boosters. That box was not designed for racing, but it worked in Indy cars. They were installed in cars for the Indianapolis 500 in 1993 and were made mandatory later that year.

“It is a major project to install and maintain impact recorders in more than 40 race cars competing in each of NASCAR’s nearly 40 Winston Cup races,” said Tom Gideon, the manager of the GM Racing Safety Program. “But I believe that NASCAR will be pleased with what they can learn from the data that they get in return for their efforts. I will certainly make myself available to assist them in every way that I can.”

GM and Ford worked together in the mid-1990s when Ford took over the crash-recorder program in CART in 1997. GM moved to the Indy Racing League to manage its crash box program that year.

The Ford “Blue Box” sensor has a range of .5 G’s to 200 G’s, but is set to record between 10 G’s and 180 G’s for CART’s purposes.

Sadler’s victory makes you think: Elliott Sadler won the Food City 500 from the 38th starting position, helped by a strategy to not change tires the last 100 or so laps.

“Bristol is different now,” said James Ince, crew chief for Johnny Benson. “In years past, the Golden Rule of Bristol was ‘Those who had the most tires won the race.’ You just constantly fed tires to the race car. If you did that you could put your self in a position to win the race or at least get a Top 10.

“That isn’t the case any more. Now you have to make sure your car is right, and if you use the correct pit strategy you should be in the right position at the end. It’s also a luck thing. We finished second there last spring. The caution came late in the race, and we bolted on four tires while everybody else took two or stayed out. We came up through the field pretty fast. It’s not like that anymore. You have to be at the right place at the right time. Tires just aren’t nearly as important as they used to be just last year.”

Benson said the change in strategy is good for the racing.

“Fans see more strategy, and the teams have more chances to figure out ways to get to the front,” Benson said. “Before, Bristol has been all about beating and banging. Now it’s about beating, banging and thinking.”

Missing Earnhardt: Earnhardt generated a lot of excitement among race fans, and the Bristol night race was one of his showcase events. But Earnhardt obviously won’t be here this weekend, and Marlin isn’t sure what that will be like.

“I don’t know. You might have to ask Terry Labonte,” said Marlin, referring to the controversial spin-and-win at Bristol two years ago. “Dale definitely made excitement. We were right in the middle of that wreck he had with Terry here that time. We had run all night and didn’t have a scratch on the car. We wound up all piled up off Turn 2. People were screaming and hollering and throwing stuff. It was pretty wild.”

School daze: Jimmy Spencer carries a special paint scheme this weekend to promote his sponsor’s program of donating $10 million to schools throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam in the upcoming school year. Kmart’s “School Spirit” program is for K-12 schools.

“I’ve always been proud to race with the Kmart name,” Spencer said. “But this weekend will be extra special because our team will be playing an important role in supporting our nation’s schools. Ten million dollars is more money than we’ll ever see. I’m glad it’ll be going to our schools. Hopefully, we can drive this Kmart School Spirit car into victory lane and be sure to share a win for students everywhere.”

Customers can enroll in the School Spirit program at Kmart stores and can designate what school they want donations to go to. With each purchase of eligible items, Kmart will donate a portion of their purchase to the customer’s school of choice.

Humpy Bumper gets crash test: The Humpy Bumper, a composite piece designed to absorb energy in the front of Winston Cup cars in case of a crash, will be tested in public Tuesday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

The bumper, named for track president H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, will be attached the front of a car and slammed into the Turn 1 wall.

Atwood is officially a man: Rookie Winston Cup driver Casey Atwood reaches an important milestone in his life this weekend. He turns 21 on Saturday.

“It’s my 21st birthday, so it’ll be a special one,” Atwood said. “I’m sure the guys have something planned. I don’t know. Everyone keeps talking about how (Jeff) Gordon won a few weeks ago on his 30th birthday so maybe we can win one on my 21st. That would be really special.”

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