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Greg Moore Wins Deadly U.S. 500

July 27, 1998

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) _ It happened so fast that those who were killed apparently had little time to react.

A tire hurtled into the stands after a one-car crash at Sunday’s U.S. 500, killing three people in the first spectator deaths in more than a decade at a major American auto race.

Six others were injured by the tire and suspension pieces that bounded high off the top of the catch-fencing, then bounced into the fourth-turn grandstand at Michigan Speedway after Adrian Fernandez’s car crashed into the wall.

Two of the dead were killed instantly; a third person died after resuscitation efforts failed. Officials identified two of the victims as Michael Terry Tautkus, 49, of Milan, Mich., and Kenneth Dale Fox, 38, of Lansing, Mich. The name of the third person was being withheld pending notification of kin.

The race went on, with most of the teams and drivers unaware of the tragedy, and Greg Moore made the last of a record-breaking 62 lead changes on the final lap to hold off Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi for the victory.

The accident occurred on lap 175 of the 250-lap race. Fernandez, who was running third, slid up into the wall on the 2-mile, high-banked oval. His right front tire and pieces of the suspension broke off. Fernandez sustained bruises to both knees.

``Just for a split second, out of the corner of my eye, I caught what looked like something flying,″ said Mark Kuyers of Holland, Mich., who has been coming to races here for eight years. ``I think the people that got hit didn’t even see it coming.

``It was completely a freak thing,″ he said. ``The tire bounced a couple of times and landed in the walkway.″

Tim VanderMel, of Waynesville, N.C., sitting close to Kuyers, said he saw the tire headed toward the stands.

``As people saw it coming down, they just started scrambling. It was almost like it was in slow motion,″ VanderMel said.

Both said track security and medical personnel were on the scene almost immediately. They quickly cleared the grandstand.

With 75 laps to go, track officials decided to keep the race running. Racing is rarely halted unless there is a dangerous situation on the track itself.

``People came here to watch us race and put on a good show, which we did today,″ Moore said. ``But that tragedy definitely puts a damper on it.″

The six injured spectators were all in stable condition with injuries ranging from fractured leg to neck and back pain, said Robin Kirkpatrick, a spokeswoman for Foote Hospital. Four were treated and released.

``The wall is four feet above the track surface and there’s 11 feet of fence and cable,″ said Greg Penske, president of Penske Motorsports Inc., which owns the track. ``So there’s 15 feet from the track surface to the top of the fence. One of the victims was in row eight and another was in approximately row 10.″

Speedway president Gene Haskett added, ``To say how high a fence would have to be to keep debris from going over would be impossible because it’s impossible to say how high something would bounce or fly over.″

It was the first spectator deaths at the track since 1969, when one fan was killed during a Trans-Am race on the road course, and the first ever on the oval.

They were also the first fatalities at a Championship Auto Racing Teams event _ or any other major oval track race _ since the 1987 Indianapolis 500, when a tire came off a car and was struck by Roberto Guerrero’s car, sending it into the top row of the grandstand and killing a fan.

There have been other spectator deaths in the ensuing years at drag races and other less-prestigious events.

As the race was nearing the finish, it appeared either Vasser or Zanardi, the Target-Chip Ganassi Racing teammates who had combined to win six consecutive races, including the last four in a row by Zanardi, were going to win the wild 500-mile event.

The last of seven caution flags was waved on lap 241 when Gil de Ferran, who was running second at the time, blew his engine. That left Vasser in the lead, Zanardi second and Moore fourth, just behind former Michigan winner Scott Pruett.

On the restart with five laps to go, Vasser got a good jump while Moore, a 23-year-old Canadian, quickly sped past Pruett and took a bead on the two Ganassi drivers.

The aggressive youngster, who came up with his second win of the season and the fourth of his career, led for part of lap 148, but then slipped behind Vasser.

He stayed in second on lap 249, fending off Zanardi’s challenge, then went after the leader at the start of the last lap.

Moore, driving for Player’s Forsythe Racing, drove his Reynard-Mercedes underneath Vasser’s Reynard-Honda heading into the first turn of the 250th lap, grabbed the lead and pulled away to the victory.

Vasser then had his hands full with his teammate, barely beating Zanardi for second place.

``It was flat out from beginning to end,″ Moore said. ``I knew the Mercedes (engine) would be reliable enough. You just had to get the breaks.

``We stalled the car twice in the pits because we had a bit of a mechanical problem, but we managed to bounce back.″

Vasser, the 1996 U.S. 500 winner, said, ``I just led the wrong lap. I had to give Greg room. After the restart, I had 10 car-lengths, but suddenly they came flying right past me.″

The Handford Device, a bulky, boxy rear wing intended to add drag to the cars and slow them down, kept race speeds under 230 mph. But the new aerodynamics also made drafting and passing easier, creating closer racing than usual for the open-wheel cars.

In fact, the previous record for lead changes in a 500-mile Champ car race was 27, set at Michigan in 1982 and matched in 1985.

Ten drivers were on the lead lap at the end, with Pruett third, followed by Richie Hearn, Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Patrick Carpentier, Paul Tracy and Bryan Herta.

Robby Gordon and J.J. Lehto also had one-car incidents. Gordon was not injured and Lehto came away with a bruised right knee.

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