Local News

Raleigh Firm Participated In Earnhardt Investigation; Says Press Conference Did Not Fully Explain Accident

Posted August 22, 2001

— Simpson Race Products watched Wednesday's press conference about the findings in Dale Earnhardt's death with particular interest, since they manufactured the seatbelt which had become the source of controversy, and were not entirely happy with the findings.

The reason Simpson Race Products is concerned is that those involved in Wednesday's news conference about Earnhardt's death did not mention

why

his seatbelt broke. A Raleigh company, Accident Reconstruction Analysis, investigated why and how the belt broke.

Dr. Charles Manning's company has investigated major disasters such as the crash of Swissair Flight 111. His company was contracted by Simpson Race Products to determine how Dale Earnhardt's seat belt broke.

"Earnhardt is hit by number 36 car, his car rotates and goes into the wall. It takes a very hard frontal impact on the right front corner," said Manning, describing the accident.

That is when the left side of the seat belt broke. Earnhardt sat low in his car, and the seat belt was not installed according to Simpson recommendations.

According to Manning's investigation, Earnhardt's belt was mounted about 7.5 inches behind where it should have been mounted, according to manufacturer's recommendations, and that probably caused the breakage, according to Manning.

Manning says that had the belt been installed properly, the adjuster would have been straight up and down. Since it was installed improperly, it cocked it at an angle, and the belt ripped from the bottom up.

That caused a process called "dumping," bunching the nylon material in one area. It also reduced the strength of the belt by 60 percent. According to Manning's report, NASCAR rules do not specify mounting locations for seat belts.

"Had the seat belt been installed the way that Simpson Racing says, it would have been loaded like this one, and it would have taken five to six thousand pounds and we don't believe that would have broken," said Manning.

Manning is an Earnhardt fan. He does not place blame on Earnhardt or his team for wrongly mounting the seat belt. However, he feels it is unfair to blame Simpson Race Products for the broken belt.

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