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Wednesday, April 11
Simpson: "We should move on"
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The maker of the seat belt used in Dale Earnhardt's car says a new medical report exonerates his company in the racing great's death.
Bill Simpson, founder and chairman of Simpson Performance Products, said the medical report prepared for the Orlando Sentinel proved what he knew all along -- that a broken seat belt did not cause Earnhardt's fatal injuries.
"That report is total vindication in my mind," Simpson said Wednesday from Indianapolis, where he is participating in a safety seminar. "Since NASCAR said a belt broke, it's been total hell for me, so naturally the report made me feel pretty good."
Simpson said at least one racing team has dropped the company as a supplier, and that angry racing fans have sent him death and bomb threats.
"Now I'd like the issue to be put to bed," Simpson said. "For what the Earnhardts have endured, for what my company has endured and for what the sport has endured, we should move on."
Simpson learned Tuesday that a court-appointed medical examiner who studied Earnhardt's autopsy photos found that the seven-time Winston Cup champion was killed Feb. 18 when his head whipped violently forward in the when his car hit a wall going 150 mph on the final lap of the season-opening Daytona 500.
Dr. Barry Myers of Duke University deduced that "restraint failure does not appear to have played a role in Mr. Earnhardt's fatal injury."
NASCAR said Tuesday it never claimed the restraint system did lead to Earnhardt's death.
"NASCAR has made clear that we will not suggest or speculate on the circumstances surrounding Dale Earnhardt's accident until our study is complete," president Mike Helton said. "No one at NASCAR has ever suggested what may have happened in this accident other than to say in our preliminary investigation we found issues of concern involving the occupant restraint system."
But by saying -- five days after the accident -- that the belt broke, the perception was created that it caused Earnhardt's death.
Speedway physician Steve Bohannon, one of the doctors who worked on Earnhardt after the accident, said he thought the faulty belt allowed the driver's head to strike the steering wheel of his Chevrolet, a blow that cracked the base of his skull and caused massive head injuries.
Simpson said NASCAR's announcement was premature, especially in light of its announcement this week that its ongoing investigation into the wreck won't be completed until August.
"I don't think they thought about what they were doing before they announced the seat belt had broken," Simpson said. "It wasn't handled correctly."
Simpson, maker of safety equipment used by racers across the country, doesn't know what happened to the broken seat belt.
Three days after the accident, Simpson said he went to look at the car with drivers Rusty Wallace and Ken Schrader. He said when they got there, the restraint system had been removed from inside the car and Winston Cup director Gary Nelson told Simpson he had been testing it.
"I was quite shocked when he said that," Simpson said. "The restraint system never should have been removed from the car if the investigation is ongoing, and I had no idea Gary Nelson was an expert in seat belts and qualified to be testing them."
Simpson said Nelson allowed him to briefly look at the belt, but not long enough for him to fully examine the break or attempt to draw any conclusions about what may have caused it.
"I have no idea what happened to that belt and I'm not sure if I'll ever know," Simpson said.
NASCAR is continuing to investigate the accident and has assembled a review panel to oversee it. The sanctioning body said one of the experts it had hired was familiar with occupant restraint systems.
Simpson complained that NASCAR has not identified the experts, but said he's confident they'll come to the same conclusion as Myers.
"I feel strongly that any results they are going to get are going to be the same as everyone else's, and that's that Mr. Earnhardt died of a basal skull fracture that could only be caused from being strapped into his seat," Simpson said.
Simpson said he is angry at NASCAR for putting the spotlight on his company and would ideally like the sanctioning body to apologize -- but he doesn't expect that to happen.
"Of course I would want that, but I'm also a realist and I know they don't do that," he said.
Simspon said NASCAR has yet to make any contact with him, even the sanctioning body said publicly said that the seat belt was broken. But he said he doesn't want to speak to any of the sport's officials and can continue to successfully operate his business without them.
"I'm not going to back down to NASCAR and I don't need them," he said. "I've been in this business 43 years and my products speak for themselves."Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories