"We are not going to react just for the sake of reacting," NASCAR President Mike Helton said. "We're going to understand all the ramifications of a change before we make it." It may appear to be baby steps, but NASCAR spent the next hour outlining some of the changes on tap.
Starting next season, NASCAR will install black boxes in cars -- similar to flight-data recorders on airplanes -- to help officials understand the forces during crashes and improve safety.
In mandating the installation of black boxes, which will only record data, NASCAR is following the example of Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Indy Racing League.
General Motors and Ford have been supplying black-box technology to CART and IRL for several years. Until now, NASCAR had resisted using the boxes on its cars, in part because it feared teams would use the information for competitive advantages.
"The technology of those boxes has gotten to the point now where we think we can manage them ourselves now without any interference from the crew chiefs or the electric wizards the teams have," Helton said.
Driver Jeremy Mayfield applauded the news. "You hear all the time about what the FAA does after a plane goes down somewhere. The objective is to not just find out what happened, but to come up with ways to keep that same thing from happening again."
CART Medical Director Steve Olvey said NASCAR's use of the boxes could pay even bigger dividends than expected.
"I think they'll find when they put the data recorders in the car, the information will be of tremendous value to them as they make cars safer over time," Olvey said. "I think it's a real step in the right direction.
NASCAR will continue to encourage drivers to use head-and-neck restraints, but did not make it mandatory.
Earnhardt was not wearing such a HANS restraint when he was killed Feb. 18 on the final lap of the Daytona 500, but NASCAR said it was unclear whether the device would have saved him. Use of the devices has dramatically increased since his crash; 41 of 43 drivers wore them in Sunday's Pepsi 400 race at Michigan Speedway.
NASCAR will use computer models to design safer cars and will be involved in testing of racetrack barriers. However, the report contained no recommendations on changes to cars or barriers. Helton stressed that NASCAR's research-and-development facility in Conover, N.C., had hired a director and was fully under way.
Deliberate procedure in redesigning car structures or adding energy-absorbent materials to the cars was recommended by both NASCAR-contracted experts who participated in Tuesday's presentation. Dr. Dean Sicking of the University of Nebraska addressed the car aspects of the investigation, and Dr. James Raddin of the Biodynamic Research Corp. in San Antonio, addressed the biomechanics -- the body movement involved in crash injuries and fatalities."
NASCAR will hire a full-time medical liaison who is aware of the drivers' medical histories and will work with local medical teams. In addition, a full-time accident analyst will be in place by Speedweeks 2002.
Kyle Petty , whose son, Adam, was killed while practicing in his Busch Series car in May 2000 at New Hampshire International Speedway, said a lot of what has been learned from the Earnhardt crash already has been used by the teams.
"I guess the public heard some new things today, and maybe we heard a few new things, too," Petty said. "But by and large, a lot of things NASCAR has learned since February have already been implemented. They didn't make a big deal out of it, and neither did the teams."
The investigation fell short of a promise Helton made in July, when he said NASCAR also would "incorporate" an investigation into the deaths of Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper -- three other drivers who died of injuries similar to Earnhardt's since May 2000.
But in the end, the only mention of the other drivers in more than 300 pages of the report came in the executive summary, which focused on Earnhardt's death and mentioned in passing "three other recent and equally tragic losses." The final report did not even contain their names.
"Nothing we can do can bring back those we have lost as part of our sport," said Helton, who admitted that NASCAR may have been at fault in how it informed the public.
"While we may have fallen short at times in our communications, it's my strong belief that we have been responsible in the area of safety," Helton said. "And will continue to approach this with the firm belief that even in the sport where danger is inherent, any single death or serious injury is one too many."