Mourning drivers call for better race conditions at Watkins Glen

August 13, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

NASCAR drivers reacted with concern and anger yesterday about conditions at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, where fellow driver J.D. McDuffie died Sunday.

McDuffie was killed during The Budweiser at The Glen when his Pontiac went out of control near Turn 5, the fastest portion of the track, skidded across a grassy area and slammed into a cable fence fronted by a wall of tires.

Dave Marcis, one of McDuffie's closest friends on the circuit, said from his shop in Buncombe County, N.C., yesterday: "You just don't figure J.D. to get in a situation like that. He was a very careful driver who didn't take chances.

"Those retaining walls at Watkins Glen are just too far away. When you get out of control and go through that grass, you're in for a bad wreck. It'd be better if they had concrete walls closer to the track."

It was widely speculated that McDuffie's brakes failed. However, The Charlotte Observer learned yesterday that the likelier cause of the accident was a broken suspension, which caused the left front tire to fly off.

The crash occurred at a section of the track where there had been six previous wrecks Thursday through Saturday.

"The wire cable gave [in McDuffie's wreck], and the car went in and came back out," said Jim Bockoven, director of track maintenance for International Speedway Corp., which manages the Watkins Glen track. "It looked to me like it was soft. I don't know if a wall there would be any better. I just don't know."

But Marcis has his own ideas. "A water barrier certainly would help," he said. "Probably better still would be the new foam blocks that are 3 feet thick, which some tracks are using. They burst on impact and absorb energy.

"I'm sad for J.D. and I'm hot and I'm going to say it. NASCAR should not compete on race tracks that have got metal railings. We put on a show for them and they ought to take steps to protect us."

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