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Experts set to explain Earnhardt's death

ATLANTA -- Somewhere in a massive stack of data, graphs, pie
charts and computer images are the details behind the death of Dale
Earnhardt and perhaps what can be done to reduce fatal wrecks.

NASCAR will announce Tuesday the conclusions of its
investigation into the death of its biggest star on the final lap
of the Daytona 500. The answers will come in a two-hour
presentation in which an engineer and a researcher will detail
every step they took in studying the Feb. 18 crash.

When they're through talking and their report has been analyzed,
both NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body approaches safety
could be changed forever.

A motorsports source familiar to parts of the investigation told
The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that part of the
report will say that NASCAR plans to form a safety team similar to
the ones currently used by the IRL and CART series.

Those safety teams include doctors and emergency service
technicians who travel the circuits on a regular basis and respond
to any emergency with specialized equipment and training.

Aside from that, there may be no clear answers as to how to
prevent accidents like Earnhardt's.

"You are not going to be able to find the magic bullet to save
every driver and prevent all injuries," Dr. Dean Sicking said
Monday. "You have to attack it as an approach and incrementally
improve safety in all areas."

Sicking was one of the leading experts NASCAR turned to for its
six-month long investigation.

A civil engineering professor at the University of Nebraska,
Sicking is considered a leading researcher on barrier and crash
safety and directs the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility.

He'll join Dr. James Raddin, a director with San Antonio-based
Biodynamic Research Corp., in announcing the results of NASCAR's
investigation.

Raddin's role was to analyze what caused Earnhardt's fatal
injuries.

Neither expert was permitted to discuss their findings at an
informal briefing on Monday monitored by several NASCAR
representatives.

But the two men gave some insight into what their roles in the
investigation were and how it progressed.

So far, the only thing known about Earnhardt's death is that a
court-appointed, independent expert found that the driver died of a
basilar skull fracture caused by a violent head-whip when his car
hit the wall.

Raddin will presumably address whether or not a head and neck
restraint device could have prevented that and what role, if any,
Earnhardt's seat belt played.

Five days after the accident, NASCAR announced a broken seat
belt had been found in the car and their physician theorized that
could have caused Earnhardt's head to move forward and strike the
steering wheel.

Dr. Barry Myers, the court-appointed independent expert,
concluded in an April report that the belt did not play a role in
Earnhardt's death.

Sicking, who was already working with NASCAR at the time of the
accident in developing energy absorbing barriers, was asked to
investigate Earnhardt's death within days of the wreck.

Raddin and his partners at Biodynamic Research were retained in
April.

Neither company is directly involved with NASCAR and both men
said the sanctioning body gave them free reign on the report.

They said focus of their tests was never steered in any
particular direction and NASCAR never balked at paying for
additional work on the report -- which is estimated to have cost
NASCAR at least $1 million.

"As far as I'm concerned, we would not have taken the retention
if we were not going to be able to do an objective analysis,"
Raddin said. "We were given that opportunity."

Sicking's role in the investigation centered on accident
reconstruction, which he said was easy to do in Earnhardt's crash
because of all the information he was given, such as the video of
the wreck.

"We normally don't have nearly as much detail as we did from
this crash," Sicking said. "The more detail, the more evidence
you have, the better. So from that aspect, the amount of evidence
we had made this reconstruction easier."

The two men looked at three key areas in their investigation.
Most important to them was the interior of the car, the car itself
and the barrier it struck. What they found could lead to radical
changes to the sport.

The Orlando Sentinel, quoting unidentified sources, has already
reported the experts found that the cars don't have enough crush
resistance in the front ends to adequately protect drivers in
crashes.

The Sentinel said redesigning probably will be recommended, with
energy-absorbent bumpers and the aluminum-foam "crush box" under
development.

Should Sicking and Raddin confirm that on Tuesday, the redesign
could be just one of many recommendations. Other changes could be
safer seats, harnesses. It's also possible the report could lead
NASCAR to require the use of a head and neck restraint.

Use of such restraints has skyrocketed since the accident, with
41 of 43 drivers in Sunday's race wearing one. That includes Dale
Earnhardt Jr.
, who wore one for the first time at the urging of his
fellow drivers.