Quietly but effectively, NASCAR gives 9/11 aid


Auto Racing

September 08, 2002|By Sandra McKee

Sports writers and columnists wouldn't be so hard on NASCAR if it would just be a little less secretive.

The organization has taken a lot of heat since the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11 because it was so slow to make a major charitable contribution while other major sports organizations made sizable donations.

All NASCAR did was promote the generosity of sponsors and individuals within the sport and say, "We'll make a contribution when we know where our money will do the most good."

NASCAR said that for nearly a year. Certainly, there was a need somewhere before August, wasn't there?

Behind the scenes, NASCAR really was looking for a place where it could make a difference.

"I guess it was less than two weeks after 9/11 that I got a call from NASCAR," then-New York Fire Chief Tom Fitzpatrick said last week. "With all that was going on, it took me a week or 10 days to get back to them, but when I did, they said they wanted to do something to help us.

"At that point, money was coming in from everywhere. The NASCAR people wanted to know if there was something else they could do besides adding money to the big pile. They wanted to do something more personal."

In his back pocket, Fitzpatrick had a project that was stagnating. New York City bureaucracy and financial restraints made it impossible before 9/11 to push through the acquisition of a driving simulator that would be used to train the men and women who drive the ladder trucks and the ambulances.

"After 9/11, it was impossible to even think of it," Fitzpatrick said. "But NASCAR used its juice to get manufacturers and vendors to build this for us."

NASCAR has given the Fire Department of New York $700,000 for two full-scale, motion-based vehicle simulators to train fire and ambulance drivers, or, as the FDNY likes to call them, chauffeurs.

The simulators will be used to help train the city's fire and emergency medical personnel in apparatus operations and are expected to help improve response times, reduce accidents and resulting injuries and, ultimately, help save lives.

And, said Fitzpatrick, who now works for Giuliani Partners in public safety projects, with the interest that money is now earning and with the donation of time and expertise by the manufacturers NASCAR has pressed into helping, the cost of the two units is declining. The FDNY will, in fact, be able to acquire four of the simulators instead of two.

"I have to give NASCAR credit," Fitzpatrick said. "It is a great thing they did for us. We couldn't have gotten this done without their help, and we needed it."

The FDNY lost 343 men in the 9/11 tragedy. Of that number, 160 were chauffeurs. Since then, said Nick Santangelo, chief of the Fire Academy of New York who will be responsible for putting the new units to work, applications to join the department have gone up.

"When those simulators arrive in the next four to six months, they will begin improving the safety of vehicle operation," Santangelo said. "We lost a lot of experienced people. Since 9/11, we've been training 21 individuals every day in nine-day training courses. The simulators will make it possible for us to give them experience with the streets, buildings and traffic of the city before they actually go out there. It will be totally customized."

Fitzpatrick said NASCAR chairman Bill France "was desperate" to do something to help the fire department. He said NASCAR has provided thousands of firemen with tickets to races and used its private jets to transport many of them to events.

"I've gone to a few races since 9/11," said Fitzpatrick, a longtime NASCAR fan. "I look around and see all these firemen, and I know how they got there. Some of the things NASCAR has done for our men, I don't want to know. They've bent over backward for us."

Why couldn't he have just said what they were hoping to do for the FDNY? Why does everything with NASCAR have to be such a mystery?

NASCAR has done something wonderful. It would have been nice to know of its efforts along the way.

Hub-City gears up

Just one of six guaranteed spots remain to be filled in the field for the 27th annual Turbo-Blue Hub-City National 150 at Hagerstown Speedway on Sept. 20-21.

Friday and Saturday night shows will bring together many top drivers in the country to battle in the longest Late Model race of the year. The 150-lap feature's winner will get $10,000.

Gates are to open at 5 o'clock each night, with races starting at 7.

Among the drivers who have earned guaranteed starting spots in the 30-car field are three from Pennsylvania - Chub Frank, Jack Pencil and Dan Armbruster (who actually won his spot at a race in Ohio).

Joining the Late Models in the Hub-City weekend will be the Hoosier Tires/Mid-Atlantic Late Model Sportsman and the Ernie's Salvage Yard pure stocks.

A race for second

While Michael Schumacher already has won the Formula One world drivers championship and is making a mockery of the word "competition" in the series, someone still has to finish second. As the series prepares for Indianapolis on Sept. 27-29, a pretty good battle is going on for second place.

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello, Williams-BMW teammates Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya and McLaren-Mercedes ace David Coulthard all have a chance. Going to Ferrari heartland next Sunday at Monza, Barrichello leads Montoya by seven points, with Ralf Schumacher two more points behind and Coulthard 14 shy of Barrichello.

No matter who wins, it won't mean that much in terms of history. Only one Formula One driver ever gained fame by finishing second. That would be England's Stirling Moss, runner-up four times. Moss had the misfortune to race at the same time as Juan Manuel Fangio, a five-time title winner from 1951-1957.

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