Soft walls get first live test at Indy

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS -- At first, it appeared ''soft'' walls would allow Robby McGehee to walk away from his hard crash almost unscathed.

When the pain in McGehee's back and left leg lingered, though, he waited to be rechecked. Doctors then found small fractures in McGehee's upper spine and lower left leg, injuries that will keep him off the track for at least a few days and perhaps longer.

While McGehee was still sore Monday, a day after becoming the first driver to hit the ''soft'' walls at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He felt fortunate to come through Sunday's accident without anything more serious.

''I owe them,'' he said of the ''soft'' wall technology. ''At a minimum, they saved me a lot of time in the hospital. We didn't scrub off much speed, and I hit it hard.''

McGehee spent Monday on crutches and his left leg was placed in a soft cast. He did not make it back to the track, and it is uncertain whether he'll recover quickly enough to qualify for the race May 26.

The news came a day after speedway officials and Cahill Racing credited the new safety device, installed on the outside walls of all four turns, with limiting McGehee's injuries to only a cut leg and bruises.

Additional examinations late Sunday night and early Monday morning revealed the fractures.

''The hairline fracture was so small that the first doctor didn't see it,'' McGehee said. ''We had to wait for an orthopedic to finish surgery.''

Still, IRL vice president Brian Barnhart was pleased that McGehee avoided serious injury and that the wall performed well in its first real test.

''We're glad Robby is doing well,'' Barnhart said. ''His crash was a massive impact. We haven't seen anything yet, after looking at the data, that has us going in any direction other than forward.''

The good news was that McGehee never lost consciousness.

McGehee lost control of his car entering turn three and spun, slamming the rear of the car into the wall at almost a 90-degree angle. The car then spun around and the right side violently slapped the wall.

Speedway officials said the car hit with a force of 40 Gs on the first impact and 72.7 Gs on the second. Similar crashes have left other drivers, such as Eliseo Salazar, out of action for extended periods.

''It was one of those where I said, 'This is going to hurt like the dickens,''' McGehee said. ''After a crash like that, you just say 'OK, I'm alive.' I could feel everything, which was good.''

McGehee said he wasn't likely to get back in a car this week and has told team owner Larry Cahill he wouldn't be upset if the team sought a replacement.

Cahill also must find another car. Team spokeswoman Linda Mansfield said McGehee's car was the only one the team had.

''I talked to Larry, and I think he's going to try and find one,'' McGehee said. ''The doctor said it would pretty much be up to me, if I was comfortable enough to drive that I could.''

McGehee said he would be fitted for a leg brace although he wasn't eager to rush back. He drove late last season on a broken left leg, injured in an accident at Texas Motor Speedway.

While McGehee recovered Monday, other drivers waited through a rain delay of 5 hours, 43 minutes before making it onto the track for the second practice session.

Defending champion Helio Castroneves was fastest with a speed of 226.716 mph. Rookie Laurent Redon was second at 226.147.

Castroneves was second-fastest -- to Scott Sharp -- in Sunday's opening practice, but Sharp was not among 28 cars on the track Monday.

More rain is expected Wednesday and Thursday, and Castroneves believes the speeds, including his, will get faster as the week progresses.

''Right now, our focus is on bottom-line speed,'' said Castroneves, who drives for Roger Penske. ''The setups are working fine, everything's working fine. It's been good.''

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