After accident Labonte calls for changes
Bobby Labonte had a busy week after last Sunday’s running of the 50th Daytona 500. Although Labonte was satisfied with his 11th place finish, his best finish since 2004, he had concerns for his Bobby Labonte Racing dirt late model team driven by four-time Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Champion Earl Pearson Jr.
Pearson Jr. was involved in a violent, end-over-end accident Saturday night prior to the running of the Daytona 500 at the Volusia Speedway Park located in Barberville, Florida. Pearson was cut from his car and transported to a local hospital where he was evaluated and released. The accident, however, brought attention to the safety aspect of dirt late model racing and what measures can be taken for improvement.
“It was a serious accident,” said Bobby Labonte Racing owner Bobby Labonte. “We’re very happy to know that, with some rest, Earl will be back to 100 percent. However, we have to make sure that we are taking all the proper steps to make sure our cars are as safe as possible.”
Those steps began Tuesday and Wednesday of the past week when Labonte met with officials from both the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series and the World of Outlaws Late Model Series at his teams race shop located in Archdale, North Carolina. Labonte and officials examined the damaged dirt late model and discussed immediate steps to improve safety for all dirt late model teams and drivers across the country. Labonte hopes to take his NASCAR experiences, and all its safety improvements in recent years, and help translate some components to the dirt late model racing world.
“We really know a lot of things we can do right now,” continued Labonte. “Before we leave for our next event, we’ll have made significant changes to our cars to enhance the safety for Earl when he is racing.”
The changes include the addition of an on-board fire extinguisher, added padding to roll bars, additional seat support and advances in the head and neck area including the use of a Head and Neck System device (HANS ) among other changes.
“It’s funny,” added Labonte. “You can drive down the same road for years and years and come to a stop sign. You think to yourself, ‘This intersection really needs a stop light’. A couple accidents later, you drive down that same intersection, and sure enough you see a stop light going up. We’re hoping to build that stop light now before we see any more accidents. We hope other teams and drivers will follow suit.”
Earl Pearson and the #44 Lifelong Locks Dodge team will debut their latest safety enhancements at their next Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series event, the “Indiana Icebreaker” at the Brownstown Speedway in Brownstown, Indiana.