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Newspaper reports auto racing kills 22 each year

Posted: Monday, November 12, 2001

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- At least 260 people, including 29 spectators, died at auto racing events in the United States since 1990, The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday.

The spectators killed included five children and, in addition to the average of 22 deaths a year, another 200 drivers and fans suffered traumatic injuries, the newspaper said.

The survey, published Sunday in a 16-page special report, covered American motorsports from Winston Cup stocks to Friday night dirt-track cars.

''This is something the industry has to deal with. We have a moral obligation,'' said H.A. ''Humpy'' Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, where there were more fatalities -- seven -- than any other U.S. track since 1990.

Stock car racing star Richard Petty, whose grandson died in a racing wreck, was surprised by the number of deaths related to U.S. motorsports, but characterized it as tolerable over the 12-year span.

''That's a lot of racing,'' Petty said.

This year has been among racing's worst with 33 deaths, 29 of them at small tracks. In June, seven drivers died in seven states, all at small tracks.

A wreck at Lorain County Speedway in Ohio killed one fan and hurt 13.

The Observer said its study found that:

-- In addition to the 29 spectator deaths, at least 70 were injured. Track owners say car parts and debris commonly clear fences, which vary in height from about 9 to 22 feet on oval tracks and 4 to 6 feet on drag strips.

-- Except in top divisions, drivers are rarely screened for experience or health problems. Since 1990, at least 32 drivers died from heart attacks while racing, sometimes hurting other drivers or fans.

-- Head and neck injuries killed at least half the drivers, including NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt at February's Daytona 500. NASCAR mandated head restraints for its top-level races in October.

-- Children too young for a driver's license can race at many tracks. Drivers with revoked licenses or drunk driving convictions often are allowed to compete.

-- Emergency preparedness varies, depending on a track's size and resources. Some small tracks provide untrained rescuers and no ambulances or firetrucks.

Of the 204 drivers who died since 1990, an average of 14 a year died in crashes, while three others died of health problems on the track.

Estimates of how many drive competitively in the United States range from 50,000 to 400,000.

By comparison, four football players out of about 1.8 million die from on-field injuries annually.

Nine others die from health problems such as heatstroke.

The report excluded deaths from youth go-karts, motorcycles, monster trucks, mud racing and racing schools.



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