Tragic loss of Adam Petty may have been due to a stuck throttle

There has already been much written on the tragic loss of young NASCAR driver Adam Petty in a crash at New Hampshire International Speedway last week. One thing that hasn't received a lot of attention is the probable cause of the accident, a stuck throttle.

During a teleconference last Tuesday, Mark Martin explained what happens:

"If the throttle hangs wide open, and you're at a racetrack where it affords you enough time to take your hand off the steering wheel and reach over and shut the ignition switch off, then that's what you do. But what happens is, it's impossible for a driver to take his hand off the steering wheel and switch the ignition switch off when he's so close to the corner when he finds out the throttle's hung.

"If he gets right down to the turn-in point of a corner of a place like New Hampshire, lets off the gas and it stays going, all you really do - and all you'll ever really do - is grab two hands full of steering wheel and hold on tight right before you hit."

Having been the victim of a stuck throttle in a race car myself (fortunately on a road course, where you've got time to react), I can verify Martin's comments. It's a shame to think that such a simple mechanical problem can cut short the life of a driver, but that's one of the harsh realities of racing.

The entire racing community, drivers, crew, press and fans, are still in shock over Petty's death. For those who want to contribute to his memory, the Petty family has requested that all memorials to Adam Petty will go to his father's ride benefiting children's charities. Checks should be made payable to "Charity Ride" and mailed to:

Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America

Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary

5700 Concord Parkway South

Harrisburg, NC 28075

-The Indy 500 is only a week away, and Saturday is Pole Qualifying day.

It promises to be one of the most interesting races since the CART/IRL split that relegated the classic event to second-class status in 1996. It was also the first time in the 84-year history of the race that two women attempted to qualify, with St. James joined by 19-year-old rookie Sarah Fisher.

Memo Gidley, one of my favorite up-and-coming young drivers, is getting support from a piecemeal crew of some of the best mechanics and engineers in the business. Former Tony Kanaan crew chief Steve Ragan built Gidley's car, and several members or the Forsythe Championship Racing team are at Indy to help get the car ready.

While the top teams at Indy have 25 people, Gidley's team has had about half a dozen so far. Team manager Alan McCall has been working on the car solo for the past two weeks, and he helped Gidley pass his four-stage rookie test in less than 90 minutes.

"Memo has so much confidence, so much speed, and he has a self-contained engineering capability that makes an engineer almost redundant." McCall said. Former Indy racer and Trans-Am team owner Tom Gloy has also joined the team in an executive capacity.

Speeds of 223 mph have been turned in practice, but there has been a lot of rain at Indy over the past week, limiting the number of laps drivers have been able to turn. Pole speed Saturday depended as much upon the weather as any other single factor. Scott Sharp, Robby Gordon, and Juan Montoya had been among the drivers topping the practice order on any given day.

Former winner Eddie Cheever, who crashed earlier in the week, noted that his perspective on crashes has changed since he's become a car owner. "When I used to drive someone's car, I used to think, this is going to hurt. Now I think, this is going to cost a lot."

-One thing I will be able to watch from Monterey is The Winston, NASCAR's answer to Wrestlemania. This Humpy Wheeler-designed non-points demolition derby does away with the conservatism that seems to have affected most Winston Cup drivers in their quest for championship points over the last few years.

There are no points for this race, just large wads of cash. Finishing first is worth a bundle, and drivers take chances they would not ordinarily take. The Winston always provides thrills, spills, and lots of bent-up race cars.

-Finally, a nod to some of our local racers. Carson City Legends racer Jovon Halen made it 2-for-2 at Reno-Fernley Raceway last Saturday night, winning his second Legends feature race at the 3/8-mile dirt oval. Halen also won his heat race (Mike Morrissey Jr. of Tahoe City won the other), and Carson City driver Jon Iverson captured the Trophy Dash win.

Morrissey and Iverson chased Halen to the checker in the Main, finishing second and third, respectively. SuperTrucks and Sprint 100 cars were also on the program, which runs on alternate weekends to Reno-Fernley's Modified and Stock Car series.

Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist.

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