Feb 18, 2002
Simpson Sues NASCARBy JR Nerad
Just how far can you push a man before he fights back?
NASCAR found out this week when Bill Simpson, the guy who has probably done more for race driver safety than anyone else in the world, finally decided to sue NASCAR after the sanctioning body pointed to an allegedly torn Simpson-made safety belt as a contributor to the death of famed driver Dale Earnhardt in the closing stages of last year's Daytona 500. Many felt the suit was long overdue after the powers-that-be in NASCAR decided the best course to deflect blame in the public relations inferno that followed "The Intimidator's" death was to throw one of its stalwart supporters and leading citizens under the bus.
The resulting furor that developed from the broken belt theory included threats on Simpson's life by misguided (or worse) Earnhardt fans. Stung by what he felt was unfounded criticism, Simpson reportedly went into seclusion after resigning from the safety equipment company that he founded and turned into one of the world's leading racing safety suppliers. Despite opinions from experts that the broken belt could not have caused the injuries that took Earnhardt's life, the official NASCAR "blue ribbon" report on the incident, which was released after months of investigation, cited the broken belt as a possible contributor to the fatality.
Even after all this, Simpson was ready to turn the other cheek if only NASCAR had given him and his company an official apology. But that apology was not forthcoming, so Simpson reluctantly decided to sue.
"It was not a money issue. It was just an apology," Simpson told the Associated Press. "That's what we tried to get. We went all day long. And that was not going to happen."
Because NASCAR wouldn't say it was sorry, Simpson decided to file an $8.5 million defamation of character suit against NASCAR. In addition, Simpson is seeking additional compensation for damage to his reputation.
On its end, NASCAR is not backing down. It released a statement saying, "The Bill Simpson lawsuit is totally without merit. We will vigorously defend ourselves against his false accusations."
Then, to twist the knife a little, the statement added, "NASCAR will continue to focus its efforts on safety, working with members of the NASCAR industry, including Simpson Performance Products, Inc."
While we hate to see this tragedy continue, one good thing might come of the suit. If the defamation case actually goes to trial, we might actually get a much better picture of what really caused the death of Dale Earnhardt. That would be worth knowing, so the same tragedy doesn't repeat itself.
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