IRL boss clamps down on safety

After last week's Casino Magic 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League officials severely warned its drivers that unsafe racing will not be tolerated in the future.

IRL boss clamps down on safety

Last Saturday night's race featured aggressive driving throughout the field. The race culminated with a three-car crash that took out two of the top three cars just four laps from the finish. Race leader Greg Ray went low on the backstretch to pass Robby McGehee's lapped car. Ray was unable to clear McGehee without clipping the front of his car sending Ray into the wall and McGehee into third-place runner Eddie Cheever.

Scott Sharp went on to win the race, but was criticised by Cheever for his aggressive racing. Cheever contends that Sharp drove other drivers into several lanes on the race track in an attempt to protect his lead.

Brian Barnhart, the IRL's executive vice president of operations, used much of Saturday morning's driver's meeting to warn drivers that future acts of that nature will not be tolerated. However, no fines or penalties were issued.

"Coming out of Texas, we saw some things that bothered us with the style of driving on the race track," said Barnhart. "We have worked very hard to develop a code of ethics and acceptable behaviour for open-wheel, oval track racing. However last Saturday at Texas, I was concerned because it became the norm more than the exception."

Barnhart said he relied on four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser and three-time Indy 500 Johnny Rutherford, two men who serve as driving coaches in the IRL, to review the tapes of last Saturday night's race. Barnhart then conducted a "very stern" driver's meeting Saturday morning.

"We told them what is not acceptable behaviour down the road," Barnhart said. "The reason we didn't fine or put any points deductions on what they are doing is there was an extremely large portion of the drivers who could have been fined or had points deducted. With that great of a number, we're not in the business to generate revenue through fines."

The IRL officials stressed in the driver's meeting that there will be immediate black flags in the future if there are moves considered unsafe on the race course.

One of the problems the IRL has, however, is determining the fine line between putting on a show and irresponsible driving. Last Saturday night's race at Texas was well received by the 70,800 fans in attendance. But, many of those fans don't realise how close they came to seeing something catastrophic.

Al Unser Jr defended Cheever for speaking out so strongly about dangerous manoeuvres in last week's race.

"Eddie has a legitimate beef, you betcha," Unser said. "Eddie is talking with his mind and not anything else. Everybody wants it to be safe. That is what we are working towards. We already know how unsafe it is with what happened to Davey Hamilton, when he was behind somebody who blew an engine and crashed at 200 miles an hour.

Cheever is one of the most outspoken drivers on safety and was the first driver in the IRL trailer last Saturday night to talk to Barnhart, urging him to make a decision to stop the overly aggressive racing.

"I think it's very difficult for Brian to make a decision like that," Cheever said. "He made it very clear that it will not be tolerated. I'm very disappointed after watching the tape. I stick with what I said before - that the driver of the 2 car (Ray) and the driver of the 8 car (Sharp) were trying to kill each other and anybody else that was in contact with them. That's wrong."

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