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Monday, April 9
Updated: April 11, 4:29 PM ET
Business has suffered for seat belt maker
ORLANDO, Fla. -- NASCAR has commissioned an accident reconstruction review into the death of Dale Earnhardt but doesn't expect to know exactly what happened in the wreck until August.
Few details of the accident review were released Monday in a conference call by NASCAR. A spokesman read a statement from president Mike Helton and no questions were allowed.
"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," Helton's statement said.
"We feel that only through a complete review ... can we have a comprehensive understanding based on solid, factual information and data, even if it takes longer to obtain than we would like."
The seven-time Winston Cup champion was killed in a crash on the final turn of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. In a news conference a week later, Helton said a seat belt broke in Earnhardt's car.
Speedway physician Steve Bohannon, one of the emergency-room doctors who worked on Earnhardt after the crash, said he thought the faulty belt allowed Earnhardt's head to strike the steering wheel of his Chevrolet. The force of the blow cracked the base of his skull and caused massive head injuries, Bohannon said.
Helton said Monday the accident review is still looking into the broken seat belt, which the sanctioning body said it had never seen before Earnhardt's accident.
"When we encounter situations that are new or unique, it is both appropriate and necessary to obtain additional perspectives," Helton said. "This review is a result of just that -- given the circumstances surrounding the occupant restraint system in Dale Earnhardt's tragic accident."
NASCAR said only that the review panel is made up of several different experts in various crash reconstruction areas, including one familiar with occupant-safety restraint analysis.
The review is covering numerous steps, including crash model development and testing, sled and real crash tests and impact barrier testing.
"Given the complexity and time-consuming nature of the process, the results are not expected to be available before August," the statement said. "The review will require significant technical observations with each step being evaluated thoroughly and scientifically.
"Given the 'building effect' of the data gathered from each stage in the process, the results of this review will be reserved until its completion."
Meanwhile, the owner of the company that supplied Earnhardt's seat belt said his business has been hurt since NASCAR blamed the belt for Earnhardt's death.
Bill Simpson said the sanctioning body has offered no proof of the faulty seat belt beyond its initial statement.
"I've been doing this for 43 years," he told the Orlando Sentinel from his office in Mooresville, N.C. "And in one fell swoop, my reputation has gone to hell."
At first, Simpson was horrified that his company, Simpson Performance Products, was being blamed for Earnhardt's death. At least one racing team dropped the company as a supplier, and angry racing fans have sent Simpson death and bomb threats.
Simpson began his own investigation, polling his factory workers and suppliers about the nylon belts and quality control. He sent six sets of lap belts, made from the same batch as those in Earnhardt's car, to an independent testing laboratory.
The tests showed that the restraints were able to withstand far more pressure than might be expected in a crash during a race.
During the test, five of the belts failed when more than 4,750 pounds were placed on it. One did not fail at all, even under a maximum load of 5,800 pounds.
It's not known how much pressure Earnhardt's wreck put on his belts.
But John Melvin, a Michigan-based biomechanical engineer who consults with auto companies and racing circuits, told The Charlotte Observer the highest load he's ever seen on a shoulder harness belt during crash tests is 2,000 pounds. A lap belt could experience more pressure, but not likely as much as what was placed on them in Simspon's tests.
Simpson said the test results prove Earnhardt's belt should not have sheared in the wreck. He said he has yet to hear anything from NASCAR, apart from the Feb. 23 news conference.
"I've never been told anything by anybody," Simpson said. "All I know is what I read in the newspaper."
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