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Third NASCAR driver of year dies from crash

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2000

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Trucks series driver Tony Roper died Saturday, hours after a fiery crash in a race at Texas Motor Speedway, becoming the third on-track fatality this year in NASCAR.

The 35-year-old driver had a severe neck injury which prevented blood from flowing to his brain, said Dr. John LaNoue, a trauma surgeon at Parkland Hospital. LaNoue said the injury Friday night left Roper without any brain function.

Roper was unconscious and unresponsive when he was pulled out of his truck after the wreck during the O'Reilly 400, where he started 15th in a field of 36. Emergency crews had to cut the roof off his Ford to get him out.

He had been placed on a ventilator at the hospital, where his father, former Midwest short track star Dean Roper, was with him when he died.

''We appreciate the show of support from the other drivers and teams who came here to be with us last night and this morning,'' Roper said. ''We appreciate everybody who helped him along in racing, and all the friends he has made as a result.

''He was a good little racer.''

It was the first fatal accident at Texas Motor Speedway, which opened in April of 1997.

''We are all shaken by the death of Tony Roper,'' said track manager Eddie Gossager. ''We join our fans in offering prayerful support to Tony Roper's family.''

NASCAR Busch series driver Adam Petty and Winston Cup competitor Kenny Irwin were killed earlier this year. They crashed eight weeks apart while practicing at New Hampshire International Speedway.

''Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with Dean and Shirley, Tony's wife Michelle, and sister Kim,'' said Mike Helton, NASCAR's senior vice president and chief operating officer.

The only previous fatality in the truck series was in 1997, when John Nemechek died after a crash in Homestead, Fla. Roper's death was the eighth from on-track crashes in NASCAR in the last 10 years.

Roper was one of two drivers to die Saturday from injuries in touring series events. Drag racer Wayne Bailey died hours after crashing during qualifying Friday night for the IHRA World Finals at Red River Raceway in Gilliam, La.

Roper, from Fair Grove, Mo., was in just his fifth Craftsman Series race this season, but the 60th of his career. He never won in the series, his best finish being second in Clermont, Ind., in 1998.

He also had raced in the Busch series over the past two years. As a Busch rookie in 1999, he had three top-10s in his 19 races but finished no better than 24th in three races on that circuit this year.

Roper began racing modifieds and late model cars in 1986, then moved to the ASA stock car circuit in 1992. He made his first start in the truck series during its debut season in 1995.

The crash happened as Roper tried to move through a pack of traffic. He apparently bumped with another truck, then veered sharply to the right and slammed head-on into the wall along the frontstretch on the 32nd of 267 laps on the 1 1/2-mile oval. His mangled truck burst into flames and spun out of control.

The accident was similar to one involving Geoffrey Bodine in the season-opening truck race at Daytona International Speedway. Bodine, a Winston Cup regular later fired from that ride, crashed after being pinched into the wall during the Daytona 200.

His truck became a fireball and took out a large section of the catch fencing as it spewed parts into the grandstand. Nine spectators and another driver were injured as was Bodine, who missed 2 1/2 months with a concussion, and breaks of a wrist, ankle and vertebrae.

Polesitter Bryan Reffner won the truck race Friday night, passing Andy Houston with six laps to go for his first victory in 112 career starts. Greg Biffle claimed the points title, even though he completed just 81 laps and finished 25th.



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