Originally created 08/04/98

Speedway extending safety fence after fatal crash



BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Michigan Speedway will erect taller protective fencing around all grandstands in an attempt to prevent another spectator tragedy such as the one that killed three fans last month.

The improvements will begin in turn three, near where Adrian Fernandez's Indy-car slammed into the wall on July 26. The accident launched a wheel into the stands. The improvements will continue through the front stretch and finish between turns one and two.

The top portion of the fence, which angles over the track, will be lengthened by 4 feet. The extension will add about 2 1/2 feet to the fence's height, for a total of 17 feet.

"Work ... is continuing as we speak," said Gene Haskett, president of Michigan Speedway. "Our staff will work around the clock if necessary to complete the job prior to" the DeVilbiss 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race scheduled Aug. 16.

The speedway has canceled test sessions for race teams and driving schools held on the track to free up more time.

Haskett said Michigan Speedway has hired a consulting firm from Columbus, Ohio to study the matter and make recommendations. He said he was unsure when it would be finished or how much the work on the track will cost.

"Our total focus is on completing the project," he said. "We have not looked at the cost yet.

"I don't think there's any question it's going to help. It will be a deterrent" to such accidents happening again, he said.

The accident was the worst ever at the speedway. Killed were Kenneth Fox, 38, of Lansing, and Michael T. Tautkus, 49, and Sheryl A. Laster, 40, both of Milan. Six other spectators were injured.

Haskett took reporters out on the steeply banked front straightway to look at the fence extension. There and between turns one and two, workers labored to install the additional 1 1/4 miles of fencing and five miles of new cable.

Asked if he was sure the changes would increase safety, Haskett said: "We don't jump to conclusions, but when you have three people fatally injured, it's clear something had to be done."

On Saturday, a 7-year-old boy and a 21-year-old woman were killed when a racing car spun out of control during a rally on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic.

Two others were injured in the accident involving race leader Adruzilo Lopes of Portugal, according to Portuguese radio TSF.

"It is a very fast curve and there might have been some debris on the ground," another driver, Pedro Azeredo, said.

The organizers of the Madeira Wine Rally called off the day's racing.