Hoosier president defends tires

February 16, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The past week has been difficult for Hoosier Tire executives.

There have been three serious accidents here. Two of them resulted in the deaths of Winston Cup drivers Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr, and the third put ARCA driver Mark Thompson in the hospital with three broken ribs.

The three cars that crashed were on Hoosier tires.

Yesterday, Hoosier Tire Co. president Robert Newton described the situation as "sad" but said he did not believe his company's tires played a part in the accidents.

"I've got 22 guys running them, and no one is unhappy with them," said Newton. "I talked to 20 of the drivers, and they all said nothing is wrong with them."

The Hoosier drivers include Daytona 500 pole sitter Loy Allen Jr., a rookie who clocked 190.158 mph.

Leo Mehl, director of worldwide racing for Goodyear, refused to criticize the rival tire company.

"I think the Hoosier tire is slightly narrower than our tire," Mehl said. "I know it's of great interest to everybody, but I'm really not in a position to make any comments about Hoosier Tire.

"We've been in this business for 25 years and we've been in situations that absolutely appeared it was one way and it turned out not to be that way. You've got to be extremely cautious when you make some kind of judgments."

Hoosier and Goodyear became involved in a heated competition onthe Winston Cup circuit in 1988-89, when both companies attempted to develop radial tires quickly. "I believe in '88, we rushed radial tires into production, thinking they were going to be safer and more competitive," said Mehl, adding that after a few years of development, the radials are more reliable.

Some drivers have said that they worry the competition to make faster tires could mean that safety is compromised.

"It's a tough call," said Dale Earnhardt. "I mean competition makes everybody better, but I'd prefer there would be just one tire company. I think it's safer and it would eliminate a lot of questions. I don't think any tire company would put an unsafe tire -- they can't afford to do that. But from the safety side of it, you hope you don't have the cut tires and the problems you had in '88."

Monday, after Orr's crash, competitors in the Winston Cup garages were trying to figure out why these accidents had happened. Many were looking for similarities among them, and pointed to the Hoosier Tires; a new, softer spring configuration makes cars bottom out easier and thus creates a dangerous, unstable situation; and drivers who lacked recent on-track experience.

"If there was a problem with the tires," said Newton, "don't you think there would be wholesale mutiny?"

Orr's car to run

John Page, who owns Orr's Goody's Dash Series car, said that after meeting with Beecher Orr, Rodney's father, they decided to run the Dash Series car in Friday's Florida 200 with former series champion Robert Huffman as the driver.

All cars in the Dash series run on Goodyear tires.

Page said the car will carry a large logo, "In Memory of Rodney Orr."

"This is something Beecher wanted and Beecher felt that it would be something Rodney would want," said Page. "We can think of no better way of honoring his memory than running Friday. Robert said he felt it was an honor that he was asked to take over the car for Rodney."

Michael Waltrip gets pole

Michael Waltrip won the pole for Saturday's Goody's 300 with a speed of 184.555 mph.

"I never had been to victory lane here before, and when I got down there, the gates were locked," said Waltrip, who was to collect the pole award there. "They finally got the keys and I walked in there and I had always wondered what it would been like and there were like two people there. I said, 'Hey, how y'all doing? My name is Michael and I'll be receiving some awards. I hope you enjoy it.' It was kind of like my whole career, basically, but I don't care."

His career has been overshadowed by that of his brother, Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion.

Earnhardt mourns Bonnett

Earnhardt yesterday talked about the loss of Bonnett, a close friend.

"We've all suffered through the sorrow of the loss of Alan [Kulwicki] and Davey [Allison], but this is harder for me, because Neil was a really true friend," Earnhardt said. "Yet, I think seeing him here was the happiest I had seen him in the last three years."

Earnhardt said he is not concerned for his safety. "But I am concerned for my children, who are now all racing," he said.

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