Grand Am Driver Jeff Clinton Killed
Mar. 02, 2002
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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) _ Grand American series driver Jeff Clinton was killed during practice Friday when his open-wheel, open-cockpit race car veered off course, flipped repeatedly and landed upside down.
The 38-year-old St. Louis driver died at the scene, officials at Homestead-Miami Speedway said.
Clinton, who was practicing for Saturday's Nextel 250 race, lost control of the car and crashed heading into Turn 1. Grand American and Miami-Dade County officials will investigate the accident.
Team officials refused to say whether Clinton was wearing a head-and-neck restraint.
Track officials canceled qualifying Friday and set the starting grid for the race according to series standings.
Clinton was in his second season _ his first full one _ for Archangel Motorsport Services. Team owner Mike Johnson withdrew his second entry from Saturday's race.
``It was the obvious thing to do,'' Johnson said. ``He was a great guy. ... He made it fun for us. He always brought the right attitude, the right style, the right everything. We're really going to miss him.''
The Grand Am circuit is a lower-level series in its third year. It is owned by the France family, who also own International Speedway Corp., parent company of NASCAR.
The accident delayed Indy Racing League qualifying for nearly three hours before Sam Hornish won the pole for the IRL season opener Saturday. The Grand Am cars returned to the track a short time later for a final practice session.
``It's awful when this sort of thing happens,'' Grand Am driver James Weaver said. ``There's an element of risk in this sport and occasionally tragedies happen. He's somebody's son. I've got two daughters. That's my worst nightmare: outliving my children. My heart goes out to his family.
``But the reality is you divorce yourself from it. That sounds callous, but that's the way it is.''
Clinton had two sons, 5-year-old Mark and 3-year-old Nathan, and was president and chief operating officer of Grey Eagle Distributors Inc., a distributor of Anheuser-Busch products.
He raced three times last year but planned to run all 10 events this season, Grey Eagle spokesman Jim Hubbard said. Clinton started 42nd in last month's Rolex 24 at Daytona, moved up to 10th but finished 54th after cracking an engine block.
He was the son of Grey Eagle owner Jerry Clinton, who headed St. Louis' unsuccessful effort to land an NFL expansion team in 1994. The NFL instead awarded franchises to Jacksonville and Charlotte. A short time later, Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontierre moved the Rams to St. Louis.
``Jeff was a real nice individual,'' friend and fellow driver Harry Trimble said. ``You couldn't find a better person on or off the track. If I ever needed a part he'd give it to me _ most of the time for free.''
This was the second deadly crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR truck racer John Nemechek died March 21, 1997, five days after sustaining massive brain injuries during a crash at the 1 1/2-mile oval.
Nemechek, the brother of NASCAR Winston Cup driver Joe Nemechek, crashed during the Florida Dodge Dealers 400 race. His truck hit the wall in Turn 1.
An investigation by the Charlotte Observer in November found that at least 260 people have died in auto racing _ at large and small tracks _ since 1990. NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt, Kenny Irwin Jr., Adam Petty and Tony Roper Jr., as well as ARCA driver Blaise Alexander, have died in the last two years.
The NASCAR deaths, all from head and neck injuries, have led to a series of safety measures, including the required use of head and neck restraints.