Gordon awaiting fire explanation

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

CONCORD, N.C. -- Nobody would blame Robby Gordon for pointing fingers over his latest racing disappointment. After all, it seems like someone should pay for his chance at victory going up in flames.

But it's been three days since a NASCAR-mandated TV gizmo blew up in his car, and no one has apologized to Gordon for ruining his solid shot of winning Sunday's race at Watkins Glen International.

Gordon isn't sitting around waiting for the calls to come.

''Nobody has told me what happened, nobody has told me why,'' he said Wednesday. ''The whole thing is disappointing, but no explanation or apology can change that. All I can do is stay upbeat and look at it like another one of those racing deals.''

This wasn't really a racing deal that knocked Gordon out.

His day ended when a box that assists NBC race coverage, inexplicably burst into flames with 75 miles left in the race.

Gordon, who had been dominating the race, had just completed his final pit stop when the Chevrolet filled with smoke.

The telemetry box -- which provides on-screen data such as RPM, speed and track position through the Global Positioning System -- popped and burst into flames from its position on the floorboard as Gordon raced back to pit road and jumped out of the car.

As a crew member reached inside to try to unbolt the shoebox-sized device, it exploded in his face -- showering him with battery acid and sending him to the infield medical center for treatment.

By the time the fire was out and the box had been removed from the car, there was too much damage for Gordon to continue the race.

It was a crushing blow for a driver who is trying to resurrect his Winston Cup career, and has yet to get an explanation from NASCAR, NBC or Sportvision, the New York-based company that provides the box.

An NBC spokesman said since the box belongs to Sportvision and is shared equipment used by all the networks that cover NASCAR, it wasn't the network's fault.

But the network is still facing criticism for not reporting what caused the fire during the broadcast, despite claims from Gordon's team that they told a pit reporter the flames were coming from the telemetry box.

''We were getting conflicting reports as to what caused the fire,'' said Mike McCarley, the NBC spokesman. ''We couldn't go on the air with it since we didn't know what exactly was wrong.''

Sportvision had yet to finish its investigation into the fire on Wednesday afternoon and declined comment.

No matter what the company comes up with, it will be of little solace to the Richard Childress-owned team, which has yet to win a race in its five years of competition.

''We've lost races under freak circumstances in the past that seemed to be in the bag, but this one takes the cake,'' crew chief Royce McGee said. ''It was supposed to be our day and something totally out of our control, something we're forced to use, messed up and stole victory right from under our noses.

''Nothing that Sportvision says or does about the faulty box will bring back our shot at victory lane.''

The Childress team does not want to use the box anymore, but is required by NASCAR to install it because, if one car in the field doesn't have the box, the others are less effective.

''The technology obviously helps our TV partners bring viewers closer to the sport,'' NASCAR spokesman John Griffin said. ''We want all the cars to have them because anyone can be in the middle of a battle for first.

''Without the box, the viewer is left wondering how fast that car is going and the announcer has no idea what the difference between first and second place is.''

That's hardly important to Gordon, who will be one of those at-home viewers this weekend -- and maybe longer.

See, Gordon is without a full-time Winston Cup ride. He drove the last four races for Childress as a replacement for the injured Mike Skinner, who returns to the car this weekend.

For Gordon, a former open-wheel racer who has had a rocky tenure in NASCAR, going out with a win could have been huge and helped him in his bid to land a permanent job.

''It's a big deal because I'm not going to be driving for a while and it would be a little easier to sit home as a Winston Cup winner,'' he said. ''Instead, I'm sitting here as someone who keeps banging on the door but can't get it to open.

''So to have this race won and to lose it because of nothing the driver, the team or the car did, it's a tough pill to swallow.''



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