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Indy's new soft walls hold up after first full-speed test

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- Robby McGehee spun, hit the wall twice and nearly flipped his car.

On any other track, he could have been seriously injured.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year, McGehee most likely will get another chance. Protected by the new soft wall in turn three, McGehee limped away with small fractures in his upper spine and lower left leg.

He won't be allowed to return to practice for the Indy 500 for at least a few days, the Indy Racing League said Monday.

"The fact that I hit the wall that hard and I don't have a head injury is a testament that the safer wall worked," said McGehee, on crutches and wearing a soft cast on his leg.

McGehee hit the wall a little more than three hours into Sunday's first practice for the 500 after he lost control entering the turn.

The wall responded mostly as track officials expected.

The crash collapsed the bottom panel of the four steel tubes and gouged a second panel. Both were repaired on the track, although there was a 36-minute delay before practice resumed.

The walls, which are being used on the outside walls of all four turns on the 2 1/2-mile oval, also appeared to work. Indy Racing League vice president Brian Barnhart said McGehee's first hit came with a force of 40 Gs, the second with a force of 72.7 Gs -- far less than had been recorded in similar accidents.

Debris from the car was scattered across the track, but McGehee walked away.

"It was a hell of an impact," Gil de Ferran, a Roger Penske driver, said after seeing the crash. "Ultimately, he walked out of the car, injured, but he did walk out of the car. So he got away without much injury."

That much was by design when the IRL began its project to find a safer wall four years ago.

What researchers at the University of Nebraska came up with was a contraption that uses four steel tubes that are welded. The wall is then attached with steel cables and bolts into the concrete walls that line the track and the back of the steel. Between the two walls are 16 1/2 inches of hard foam.

Elsewhere

  • NASCAR:Ricky Rudd, one race away from breaking the NASCAR record for consecutive starts, might not have too many more events in his future. Rudd, in his 21st season of Winston Cup racing, said he may retire at the end of this season -- partly because of the changing face of NASCAR and the way the sport is being marketed.

    Rudd, 45, is set to make his 656th consecutive start at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 26, which would break Terry Labonte's record. He tied the mark Saturday when he started the race at Richmond International Raceway.

    Rudd said he dislikes the toll the schedule takes on family life and the way the sport is being marketed, pointing out an emphasis TV coverage has given younger drivers.

    INDY:Sarah Fisher is nearing a deal that will put her in the driver's seat for the Indianapolis 500.

    Fisher, a two-time starter in the race, is expected to announce today or Wednesday that she will join Dreyer and Reinbold Racing and become a teammate to Robbie Buhl.

    -- From wire reports


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