Daytona allows caution on tires of controversy

February 18, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA — DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Shaken by the deaths of two fellow drivers at Daytona International Speedway this past week, Rusty Wallace made an unprecedented plea for caution at the drivers' pre-race meeting yesterday.

"I'd go so far as to say every damn body in this room is running a little scared," Wallace said. "I know my wife is damned scared. So, I hope we all go out there and use our heads.

"It's not easy to give up a position you want, just to be on the safe side," Wallace told the drivers. "But I'm tired of losing my friends and my friends getting hurt. I hope you all are, too."

Neil Bonnett died in an accident a week ago, and Rodney Orr was killed in a crash Monday. Another accident left Mark Thompson hospitalized with three broken ribs.

All three drivers were in cars with Hoosier tires, a brand that is trying to challenge Goodyear's domination in the Winston Cup series. The new tires are involved in the controversy about safety going into Sunday's Daytona 500, stock car racing's premier event.

Yesterday, NASCAR officials amended its tire usage rules for the Gatorade Twin 125s and the Daytona 500. Teams were allowed, without penalty, to change tire brands through the 20th lap of yesterday's 125-mile twin qualifying races. They also will be allowed to change tire brands through the 40th lap of the Daytona 500.

Usually, drivers who switch tire brands must move to the back of the field.

Hoosier Tire president Bob Newton said yesterday that there "is not a thing wrong with the product." But yesterday evening, Newton released all of the drivers under contract to Hoosier, allowing them to switch to Goodyear, and said that their Hoosier contracts would remain intact for the rest of the season.

Before Newton's announcement, eight of the 18 teams running on Hoosiers already had switched to Goodyear. And more are expected to do so before Sunday's race.

"It's a no-brainer," Wallace said.

Pole qualifier Loy Allen Jr. stayed with Hoosier for yesterday's race, but brought his car into the garage after 26 laps, with handling problems.

Driver Ernie Irvan, whose car is on Goodyears, said no one is saying Hoosier can't build good tires.

"The problem is that Hoosier brought a speed tire to a handling race track," Irvan said. "Those tires are fast for qualifying, and they may blow everyone's doors off at Talladega. But you can't race on it here."

Driver Harry Gant decided to switch from Hoosier to Goodyear.

"We tested our car with Goodyear and Hoosier, and Hoosier was the best," Gant said. "But when we got here, things were different. The car didn't handle. We changed it and changed it and changed it. When NASCAR gave us the option to change this morning, I said let's try the Goodyears and see."

No one in the garage criticized the decision to allow the drivers on Hoosier tires to change for the 125-mile qualifying races.

But some drivers and owners weren't happy with the decision to allow teams to change until the start of Sunday's race, without penalty.

Long-standing NASCAR rules state a team must start a race with the same car, tires and engine that qualified, or move to the back of the field.

"I'm glad they're getting the Hoosiers out of the field," said Richard Childress, the owner of the Dale Earnhardt car.

"[But] when you change the tires, you need a completely different chassis setup," he said. "If they've been on Hoosiers and they switch to Goodyears to start the 500, they're going to be guessing and praying when the race starts."

But Childress said his real concern is that the tire problems will be with the series all season.

"I don't feel there is room enough in racing for two tire companies," he said. "My fear is that they'll push each other into making dangerous compromises.

"I don't want to spend 1994 going into the trailer reminding my driver about tire problem dangers or going to the hospitals to see friends laid up there because of the tire situation."

Newton, who said he is committed to manufacturing Hoosier tires for this series, said he has nothing against drivers having the choice to change.

"If a guy doesn't want to be on your product, they shouldn't have to be on it," he said.

# Sunday's lineup 1. Loy Allen Jr., Ford Thunderbird, 190.158. 2. Dale Earnhardt, Chevrolet Lumina, 190.034. 3. Ernie Irvan, Ford Thunderbird. 4. Sterling Marlin, Chevrolet Lumina. 5. Rusty Wallace, Ford Thunderbird. 6. Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet Lumina. 7. Mark Martin, Ford Thunderbird. 8. Bill Elliott, Ford Thunderbird. 9. Terry Labonte, Chevrolet Lumina. 10. Brett Bodine, Ford Thunderbird.

11. Todd Bodine, Ford Thunderbird. 12. Morgan Shepherd, Ford Thunderbird. 13. Ken Schrader, Chevrolet Lumina. 14. Michael Waltrip, Pontiac Grand Prix. 15. John Andretti, Chevrolet Lumina. 16. Derrike Cope, Ford Thunderbird. 17. Chad Little, Ford Thunderbird. 18. (20) Wally Dallenbach Jr., Pontiac Grand Prix. 19. Robert Pressley, Chevrolet Lumina. 20. Ricky Rudd, Ford Thunderbird.

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