Originally created 05/01/01

CART faces uncertain future at Texas speedway



FORT WORTH, Texas -- CART faces an uncertain future at Texas Motor Speedway after calling off its inaugural race at the track because drivers got dizzy in practice.

The organization also faces many questions, such as: Why didn't it know until Sunday that the high-banked track was unsafe for drivers going more than 230 mph?

CART didn't conduct open testing so was unaware of the physical strain on drivers going full speed. Only after drivers spent nearly four hours on the track together over two days of practice did officials realize the problem.

"The bottom-line point is CART should have known," said Eddie Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway general manager. "It should have been tested months and months and months ago."

In letters and faxes to CART officials months before the event, Gossage had questioned whether the extreme speeds would be safe. He said he had been assured CART was ready to race at his track.

CART officials based their evaluation of the track on testing by several individual teams.

"We followed the testing that was done and the fastest speed by anyone was in the mid-220s," said Kirk Russell, CART's chief steward. "We used that as a baseline to move ahead."

Kenny Brack averaged 216-220 mph in testing last December. He earned the pole with a qualifying run of 233.447 Saturday, the same day four drivers broke the 236 barrier in practice.

Speedway and CART officials, including Gossage and CART president Joe Heitzler, met Monday to discuss the status of their three-year contract signed last July. They have not decided when or if the Firestone Firehawk 600 will be run, or whether CART will ever hold an event at the speedway.

"This is something that we didn't ever think about happening," said Michael Andretti, CART's winningest active driver with 40 victories. "There are people that know I wasn't in favor of coming here, but it wasn't for this reason. This is a different reason, this is a physical reason."

CART called off the race after 21 of 25 drivers experienced vertigo and other symptoms because of gravitational forces.

Dr. Steve Olvey, CART's medical director, said symptoms would have been exaggerated during a 250-lap race on an 80-degree day and drivers might have even lost consciousness.

"This is uncharted territory," Olvey said. "We really couldn't send drivers in a situation that is totally unknown."

The combination of speed and 24-degree banking at the 11/2-mile track subjected drivers to G forces of up to 51/2 for 18 of the 22 seconds it took to complete a lap. A range in the 3s is considered normal on most tracks.

This was the first safety-related postponement by CART since 1985, when tire concerns delayed a race at Michigan International Speedway for six days. Never before, however, had a race been postponed on the day of the event because of safety concerns.

But Russell said CART never had the opportunity to do a large-scale test because teams had scheduling conflicts. Other testing, the steward insisted, provided no reason for concern.

Andretti said there would have been no way to simulate what drivers experience during a race.

"When we were all out there, there was so much air moving and we were still going very, very fast," Andretti said. "You can't simulate 20-something cars in a race."

There are few additional changes that could be made to the track. At the request of CART, several areas on the racing surface were smoothed out and a wall has been added just inside the pit lane.

There would have to be modifications made to slow down the cars. Olvey says that CART could run races safely on the track at around 225 mph.

"Over 225 mph, somewhere in there is a threshold where it becomes an issue," the doctor said. "We are riding on a threshold or right on this edge that we don't want to go beyond."