Childress Battles Simpson

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Team owner Richard Childress and Bill Simpson are waging a war of words over the installation – improper or not – of the Simpson seat belt that separated in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt.

Tuesday, after NASCAR released its report on Earnhardt’s crash, Simpson’s lawyers were “dismayed and disappointed” that the report failed to mention “the installation did not conform to manufacturer specifications.”

Thursday, Childress fired back with a statement.

“I am disappointed and upset by the remarks that have been made by Bill’s representatives and representatives of Simpson Race Products,” Childress said. “I feel it is my responsibility to respond on behalf of my friend, Dale Earnhardt, and everyone at Richard Childress Racing.

“The statements made by representatives of Simpson Race Products concerning Dale Earnhardt on the seat-belt issue are undeserved and unfair, especially when Dale is not here to defend himself. Simpson Race Products’ representatives said that Bill spoke to Dale many times over the years about seat belt installation.

“In the 16 years that Dale and I were together, Dale never said anything to me about any conversation with Bill Simpson or any of Bill’s representatives regarding the installation of the seat belts. Bill did speak to Dale and me over the past 16 years on several occasions concerning safety issues – including gloves, shoes and full-face helmets – but nothing was ever said to me by Bill or any representative of Simpson Race Products about the installation of the seat belts.

“I have checked with every crew chief that ever worked with Dale at RCR to see if any of them had been approached by Bill or any representative of Simpson Race Products about incorrect seat belt installation. Not one of them said they ever had.”

Simpson told a Virginia newspaper on Thursday that Earnhardt’s left lap belt – the one that separated under load during the crash – “was absolutely not installed according to instructions, in fact it was 8 inches out of spec. And NASCAR inspected the vehicle and put a red dot on the windshield saying it was safe to run. Obviously, it wasn’t.”

Simpson also said he had a conversation with Earnhardt about the proper installation of the belts.

“Do you have proof of a conversation you had with someone in a bar last week?” Simpson told the newspaper. “I do have proof, however. I’m not letting that be known at this moment. There is one guy who was present during those conversations, and it was Robin Miller… I’m not going beyond that because I’m not going to give up their names. But at least one guy will verify what I said. So that is two of us against one.”

Miller, reached via cell phone Thursday, confirmed to The Associated Press that he heard the conversation. Miller said he was talking to Earnhardt about safety issues during the Brickard 400 “two or three” years ago when Simpson came up. Simpson, according to Miller, talked to Earnhardt about “his seat belts and the way they were installed,” among other safety issues.

Kevin Harvick, who replaced Earnhardt in RCR’s Winston Cup cars, discounted Simpson’s relationship with Earnhardt.

“If Bill Simpson and Dale Earnhardt were such good friends – don’t you listen to your good friends?” Harvick said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a crock of crap. If they were that good of friends, they would have listened to him, and Dale would have said something. That’s how he was.”

Jimmy Spencer told the AP that it was “common knowledge” Earnhardt’s belts were installed incorrectly.

“Simpson warned him the same way he warned me,” Spencer said. “He would look around these cars in this garage and make suggestions. But Dale could’ve had every device in his car on correctly, and it wouldn’t have saved him.

“The angles of the seat belts – a lot of drivers had it that way, and Bill warned all of us.”

Simpson deferred to his attorneys Thursday when asked if he was considering possible litigation against NASCAR or Childress.

Childress defended Earnhardt on the issue of safety.

“Dale Earnhardt was extremely serious about every decision he made involving the race car,” Childress said. “He was concerned about safety, and I reject any statement to the contrary as being simply wrong. The style of seat belts in the Daytona 500 car were installed behind the seat, in the same area they had been installed since 1986. Those belts in that position had held up through some very horrendous crashes.

“I feel that it is necessary to get my thoughts about this matter on the record. However, we now all owe it to Dale, Dale’s family, friends and fans to bring this matter to closure.”

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