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Long Beach Diary:
Day Two
Here’s to The Champ Car Safety Team, 1984 – 2008

Long Beach, Calif., April 19 — Last night, CARA Charities honored the many contributions of the Champ Car Safety Team for nearly 24 years of service in making our sport safer and for pioneering the on track presence of skilled medial workers, including doctors, nurses, and therapists.

The history of Champ Car and the open wheel split which eventually led to the demise of the series and its safety team will probably be written by others. However, as a wife and mother, in addition to being a sportswriter, I have an excellent idea of what is needed to bring life into this world and to sustain that life into young adulthood. In so many ways, it is my life’s work.

Because of this, the protection of life, especially young life, is of particular interest to me. And, as a writer, I am mindful of the limitation of words to adequately convey an idea. So, I have decided to do something else to show what I think this team has accomplished. It will probably be as difficult to read as it is for me to write it, so consider yourself warned.

Of course we know there is an element of danger with anything that involves cars, let alone auto racing. But, the men and women who ran the Champ Car series in its early days did not simply accept the danger and related driver fatalities as a given. Instead, they embarked on an odyssey that would see the birth of the first auto racing full time safety team. And, what was their accomplishment, because it’s a fair question to ask, especially in light of the emerging popularity of NASCAR and all its incarnations.

In spite of being so popular, NASCAR, and stock car racing as a whole, still does not have a full time safety team and their driver fatalities during the same period of time that the CCWS Safety Team was in existence bear mute witness to this lack of proper safety. I think the lives they saved are by far the most stellar achievement of Champ Car, and should be remembered long after people have forgotten why there was fragmentation in professional open wheel racing.

Now, I have eliminated accidents that took place prior to 1984 and those involving less notable NASCAR series. Even so, and even though on track safety teams might not have saved these drivers, I think this list tells the story of our safety team in a far more profound way.

Here are the 15 NASCAR and ARCA major series drivers who died from auto racing injuries while the CCWS Safety Team was in existence.

NASCAR Cup & Major Support Series Driver Deaths, 1984 - 2008

Adcox, Grant, American NASCAR Driver, Died, November 19, 1989, from injuries at Talladega Superspeedway

Affleck, Francis, Canadian ARCA Driver, Died, February 27, 1985. From injuries at Daytona International Speedway

Alexander, Blaise, ARCA Driver, Died, October 4, 2004, from injuries at Lowes Motorspeedway.

Baker, Scott, ARCA Driver, Died, June 23, 2000, from injuries at Toledo Speedway.

Bonnett, Neil, NASCAR Driver, Died February 11, 1994, from injuries at Daytona Motor Speedway

Earnhardt, Dale, NASCAR Driver, Died February 18, 2001, from injuries at Daytona Motor Speedway

Gehrke, Chris, ARCA Driver, Died May 7, 1991, from injuries at Talladega Superspeedway

Irwin Jr., Kenny, NASCAR Driver, Died, July 7, 2000, from injuries at New Hampshire International Speedway

Martin, Eric, ARCA Driver, Died, October 9, 2002, from injuries at Lowes Motor Speedway

McDuffie, JD, NASCAR Driver, Died, August 11, 1991, from injuries at Watkins Glen

Nemechek, John, Craftsman Truck Series Driver, Died, March 21, 1997, from injuries at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Orr, Rodney, NASCAR Driver, Died, February 14, 1994, from injuries at Daytona International Speedway

Petty, Adam, NASCAR Busch Series Driver, Died, May 12, 2000, from injuries at New Hampshire International Speedway

Roper, Tony, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Driver, Died, October 12, 2000, from injuries at Texas Motor Speedway

Schoonover, Terry, NASCAR Driver, Died, November 11, 1984, Died, November 11, 1984, from injuries at Atlanta Motor Speedway

In comparison, here are the names of the 3 Champ Car drivers (remember, the Indy 500 never used the Champ Car Safety Team, though there was crossover of personnel) who died due to racing injuries during the same period.

Champ Car & Major Support Series Driver Deaths ,1984 – 2008

Krosnoff, Jeff, CART Driver, Died July 14, 1996, from injuries at Toronto Molson Indy

Moore, Greg, CART Driver, Died, October 31, 1999, from injuries at California Speedway

Rodriquez, Gonzalo, CART Driver, Died, September 11, 1999, from injuries at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

What I cannot list are all the drivers who are alive today because of the Champ Car Safety Team. What I can tell you is that regardless of series, of the 18 young men listed above, their mothers loved them and most had other people who could have benefited from them being alive.

Towards the end of his life, an uncle of mine had the chance to be photographed with the hundreds of descendants of the men he saved on the USS California on the morning of December 7, 1941. Nothing else showed me the good he was able to do by his heroic actions.

In reverse, I hope I have been able to show the tremendous good that the Champ Car Safety Team did during its 20 plus years of existence. It bears testimony to the good each of us has the potential to do each and every day.

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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