Originally created 05/16/04

NASCAR, DOT join in seat belt initiative



RICHMOND, Va. -- NASCAR attracts many celebrities everywhere it goes, and it drew one Saturday who was accompanied by guards wearing bulletproof vests in this security-conscious time.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta came to Richmond International Raceway to be the honorary starter and announce a new seat belt initiative - "Click it or Ticket" - with the support of NASCAR.

"If anyone knows the value of a safety belt, it's these men who drive for a living on NASCAR's raceways," Mineta said during a media briefing, where he was joined by NASCAR president Mike Helton and several drivers.

Mineta said NASCAR's involvement took seven or eight months to finalize, and Helton said it was a natural cause to support.

"It seemed only fitting that NASCAR could help the Department of Transportation send a public message about how critical it is as a safety component to have your seat belt on," Helton said.

Mineta said 18,000 people killed in car crashes last year were not wearing seat belts - about a third of them men between 18 and 34.

"These are needless deaths, deaths that could be prevented," he said.

Between May 24 and June 6, Mineta said about 10,000 law enforcement organizations will take part in "Click it or Ticket," a zero-tolerance enforcement targeting drivers and passengers who fail to buckle up.

"When you start your engines, please take the time to buckle up, if not for yourself than for those you would leave behind," Mineta said.

NASCAR drivers who will be involved in public service announcements include Bobby Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield and Kurt Busch from the Nextel Cup Series, and Busch drivers David Green and Justin Labonte.

FRANK THE FAN: Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer was the guest of track president Doug Fritz, a fellow Virginia Tech alum, for Saturday night's race and said he's become a big fan of stock car racers.

"I enjoy watching them and I really admire these drivers," Beamer said before the race. "I admire the operation. ... Just the pit strategy and how they all operate together. I really admire what these guys do."

Caleb Hurd, the holder on kicks for the 2000 Hokies when they played for the national championship, is a gas man on Jeff Gordon's team.

Beamer also declined to say much about the three Hokies football players, including Marcus Vick, convicted Friday of contributing to the delinquency of three underage girls during a party in their apartment.

Tailback Mike Imoh was sentenced to 10 days in jail, wide receiver Brenden Hill was sentenced to 20 days in jail and Vick was sentenced to 30 days in jail, all after their convictions on three misdemeanor counts.

"I don't think that thing is over," Beamer said, noting the convictions are only a day old and the appeals process is an option.

Vick's lawyer has said he will file an appeal on Monday.

GLIB GIBBS: Joe Gibbs took a break from his duties as the new coach of the Washington Redskins to check in on his race teams Saturday.

"I always loved coming to Richmond, period," he said. "I always felt like this is big Redskins country and obviously big racing country."

The transition from full-time NASCAR involvement to peripheral involvement as he works to rebuild the Redskins is going well, he said.

"Everybody asks me how it's going in football and I say as long as we don't play a game, we're doing great," he said, starting to laugh. "It's going to get real nasty here in about three months."

GOING BACKWARD: Jeff Green started third in the famed No. 43 for Petty Enterprises, but seemed to start losing ground immediately. By the time 100 laps had been run, he'd dropped from third to 24th. ... Elliott Sadler was to start 14th, but had to go to the back of the field because he changed engines after qualifying. He was joined at the back by Ricky Craven and Kasey Kahne, both in backup cars after qualifying crashes.