- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr. is satisfied with NASCAR's report on his father's death, although he still would like to see seat belt standards established for Winston Cup cars.

"It would be good if they could establish standards for the manufacturers and seat-belt companies, like there are in the Navy and Air Force for seat belts in fighter jets," he said yesterday in his first public comments on the report.

On Tuesday, NASCAR released details of its investigation into Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s crash, finding that a variety of factors including a broken seat belt played a part in his death on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

Even though his father was wearing a Simpson seat belt, the younger Earnhardt has no worries about using the company's product.

"I still feel comfortable with Simpson seat belts," he said, adding that he talked with NASCAR president Mike Helton about the report.

NASCAR's report did not mandate that drivers wear a head-and-neck restraint device, although many, including Earnhardt Jr., have used them.

His father was not wearing a head and neck restraint system at Daytona.

"Little E" wore the Hutchens device to support his head and neck at the Pepsi 400 last weekend, pressured by colleagues worried about his safety.

"A bunch of drivers had asked me to wear one," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Terry Labonte was probably the first guy who said he wanted me to be around a long time and to wear it."

Earnhardt Jr. said it was uncomfortable at first, but he adjusted it several times during the race's rain delays and it became easier to wear.

In all, 41 of 43 drivers at Michigan Speedway wore a head and neck restraint device. Earnhardt Jr. said he probably would keep wearing one.

Earnhardt Jr. was in Darlington to promote the Southern 500 on Sept. 2, under a commitment he made weeks ago. At the time, NASCAR had not yet scheduled its news conference about the crash investigation.

Yesterday, Earnhardt Jr. was met by about 70 media members, several of whom drove in from Atlanta to hear his views about the two-volume report.

"I know NASCAR was scrutinized for being secretive, but I think they did it in a real professional manner," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Everything that they believe and have found are real consistent with my beliefs and the family's interests. We're very content with everything."

NASCAR outlined several steps Tuesday to improve safety.

It said it will install "black boxes" in cars, similar to flight-data recorders on airplanes, to help understand the forces during crashes and improve safety. The devices already are standard in CART and IRL.

NASCAR also will use computer models to design safer cars and will be involved in testing of race track barriers. The organization will commission a study on restraint systems to take a closer look at seat-belt strength.

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