- The Washington Times - Friday, August 24, 2001

BRISTOL, Tenn. Dale Earnhardt's longtime car owner reacted angrily yesterday to seat belt maker Bill Simpson's claim that he repeatedly warned the late driver the belts in his car were not installed properly.
"In the 16 years that Dale and I were together, Dale never said anything to me about any conversation with Bill Simpson or any of Bill's representatives regarding the installation of the seat belts," Richard Childress said. "Bill did speak to Dale and me on several occasions concerning safety issues, including gloves, shoes and full-face helmets.
"But I have checked with every crew chief that ever worked with Dale at RCR to see if any of them had been approached by Bill about incorrect seat belt installation. Not one of them said he ever had."
The issue came up after NASCAR Tuesday presented its report into Earnhardt's Feb. 18 death. Its investigation found that the combination of a broken seat belt, a collision with another car and the angle at which his Chevrolet hit the wall on the final turn of the Daytona 500 all contributed to his death.
The report also said the separation of the belt was "not caused by driver adjustment."
Nevertheless, immediately after the presentation, a Simpson representative said the belt maker had told Earnhardt on more than one occasion that he was not using his belts correctly.
"Bill Simpson told him for years that the way he was using the belts was not safe," attorney Bob Horn said while Simpson sat silently beside him. "Dale listened, but his response was to do it the way he wanted to do it."
Simpson, who did not speak at the news conference, reiterated the claim yesterday and said he had witnesses to some of the conversations, including Robin Miller, a motorsports writer formerly with the Indianapolis Star.
"There is one guy who was present during those conversations, and it was Robin Miller," Simpson said. "I'm not going beyond that because I'm not going to give up their names. But at least one guy will verify what I said. So that is two of us against one."
Miller confirmed he was present at one of those conversations, which he said took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway sometime in the last two years.
"I was talking to Earnhardt about the HANS device and Simpson came up and started talking to him about the way his seat belts were installed," Miller said. "I can't remember exactly what was said, but safety was discussed in depth. Why would Simpson lie about this?"
The issue turned into a war of words when NASCAR returned to the track yesterday for the first time since the Earnhardt report was released.
As for the way the belts were installed, Childress said only that the way they were in the car during the Daytona 500 "were installed behind the seat, in the same area they had been installed since 1986.
"Those belts in that position had held up through some very horrendous crashes," Childress said.
And Kevin Harvick, the rookie who took over the car after Earnhardt's death, said he doubted conversations ever took place between Simpson and Earnhardt regarding belts.
"If Bill Simpson and Dale Earnhardt were such good friends, well, don't you listen to your best friend?" Harvick said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a crock."
But driver Jimmy Spencer said it was common knowledge that Earnhardt wore his belts differently because he liked to have the adjuster pulled up high on his waist.
"He liked to pull up on his belts because he felt more secure that way," Spencer said. "Simpson warned him about it the same way he warned me about the way I was wearing my belts. It was common for Simpson to look around this garage at these cars and make suggestions as to how it could be safer."
Other drivers have said Earnhardt liked to sit back away from the steering wheel and low in his seat, a style that could explain why the belts could have been installed in a way that varied from the instructions.
Simpson declined to discuss the specifics of Earnhardt's belts or his conversations with him and referred all other questions to his attorney.
"I'm not going to talk about my conversations with Earnhardt any more because I'm not going to give anybody any ammunition for anything," he said.
Childress said he wanted the entire issue to end.
"I feel that it is necessary to get my thoughts about this matter on the record," Childress said. "However, I think we now all owe it to Dale, Dale's family, friends and fans to bring this matter to closure."

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