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Sunday, November 11
Rudd crew members hospitalized
By Jerry Bonkowski
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- A terrible racing accident occurred near the front of pit road on lap 111 of Sunday's Pennzoil 400 at Homestead when Ward Burton crashed into Ricky Rudd's car, striking three of Rudd's crew members and a nearby NASCAR official who was monitoring Rudd's pit stop.
The most seriously injured, front tire changer Bobby Burrell, was thrown headfirst into the concrete pit wall and slumped on the ground unconscious. He was in serious but stable condition on Monday at the neurosurgery intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami with undisclosed head injuries, a hospital official said.
Besides Burrell, the other three men who were injured and their injuries are:
Bryan had a mild concussion but no broken bones, a hospital spokesman said. Bryan is the brother-in-law of Todd Parrott, crew chief for Dale Jarrett.
"I feel horrible about it," Burton said shortly before departing the racetrack to visit Burrell. "I thought I was clear and I was coming out (of the pits). Somebody was coming down or made it three wide or something.
"When I was coming out, my right front hit (Atwood's) car in the side and sent me into the side of the 28 (Rudd's car). I just want to get to the hospital right now and see how they're doing."
Atwood did not place any blame on himself of Burton.
"I pulled out of my pits and there was a lane on the outside of me and I couldn't go up any higher," Atwood said. "When I shot by him (Burton), he pulled out of his pits. Nobody did anything wrong That's just the stuff that happens on pit road. It's tight on pit road.
"I hate that it happened. I understand some people might have been hurt. That bothers me a little bit, but I don't think there's anything anybody could have done."
Two members of the No. 31 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet team (front tire carrier Kirk Almquist and front tire changer Scott Nasset) and another member of the No. 88 UPS Ford team (jack man Shane Callis) pitched in for their fallen comrades, helping out on Rudd's subsequent pit stops for the remainder of the race.
Team owner Robert Yates accompanied Burrell on the short helicopter flight to the hospital, according to a team spokesman.
In light of Sunday's unfortunate accident, as well as several other traffic-squeezing and minor fender-banging skirmishes in the pits at Homestead, look for renewed calls from teams to not only widen pit road, but to also have NASCAR consider requiring any crew members that work in the pits to wear protective helmets.
"Of course (wearing a helmet) would have helped Bobby because he's got head injuries," said Michael McSwain, crew chief for Rudd's car.
Currently, only crew members on the Cal Wells-owned No. 32 Tide Ford wear helmets. That's something Jeff Gordon would like to see become adopted by all teams.
"I just wish those guys were wearing helmets," Gordon said. "Accidents are going to happen. You can't control when a guy gets knocked into somebody accidentally.
"But you can prevent some head injuries with helmets. I'm going to talk to my guys about it. You know, we get back into this 'mandatory' thing, which is a whole new thing there. But what happens is that one team has an advantage over another team if one doesn't feel comfortable with it. So I want to get the guys comfortable. I'd love to see them have it because I don't want to see that happen to anybody out there."
Jimmy Makar, crew chief for defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte, agreed that Sunday's incident was an accident waiting to happen.
"We've had close calls for a long time," Makar said. "Pit road is a dangerous place. It always has been. I know we've done some things over the years to make it safer - speed limits and such, limiting the number of people out there, when they can go out there.
"But when they are down on their knees around the other side of that car, changing tires and working on it, they're sitting ducks for an accident when you've got race cars around. I don't know how you stop it, other than make pit road wider - get the cars away from the cars pitting on pit road - to give the drivers an opportunity to pull out away from the cars pitting.
"This is a pretty narrow pit road (at Homestead) when you look at it. When you start putting them two cars wide going down there after they've done their pit stops and then have another car trying to pull out, and then put a car pitting on pit road, you're talking about being four cars wide and then guys trying to work on the race cars. It's just not a good situation. I think we need to take a longer, harder look at what we can do."
Race winner Bill Elliott said wearing helmets should be a personal choice of either the crew members or mandated by the crew chief, likening it to some states requiring helmets be worn by motorcycle riders, while other states have no such requirement.
Still, Elliott conceded that helmets may indeed help: "Anything that could add protection," he said.
Veteran motorsports writer Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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