Earnhardt's Legacy Looms Large

Dale Earnhardt CBS

"The Intimidator" was everywhere at Daytona International Speedway — from merchandises to memories.

"When he was out there with the black number three, you could see there’s be some bumping and motoring and carrying on and I’m going to miss him," said fellow NASCAR driver Ken Schrader.

Perhaps, the greatest effect of Dale Earnhardt's death on this track a year ago may be what has changed to make this sport safer, reports CBS News Correspondent Bobbi Harley.

"This is an area that you can never be too good at and we'll never be satisfied," said NASCAR Senior Vice President George Pyne. "So, everyday we get up. We're going to focus on safety and try to do a better job everyday."

However, critics charge NASCAR has been slow to embrace such a sentiment. Jim Downing manufactures a head and neck support system many say might have saved Dale Earnhardt’s life. But, before Earnhardt’s death, they were not required. Now, they are mandatory equipment for races.

"We couldn't get an audience — folks didn’t want to talk about it," said Jim Downing, President of Hubbard Downing. "They didn’t want to take the time."

This year NASCAR officials have also approved stronger seats and required data recorders in all of the cars. It also will use an accident investigator and computer modeling to better understand crashes. From data it obtains from its research, NASCAR hope to help design safer cars.

Softer speedway walls and cars that can absorb more energy from crashes are in development. But, NASCAR officials have no plans — like other motorsports — to hire a full-time emergency medical team.

Still, the changes made are considered monumental. Independent-minded drivers, who might have rejected such requirements before, are taking the safety precautions seriously since their Superman died.

"We're not engineers — we know what we like," said Schrader. "But, that might not be the best for us."

It’s a sobering humility that has emerged in the last year — both on the track and in the front office.

NASCAR Columnist David Poole believes racing will become safer. "I think NASCAR finally came to realize that, 'you know what, there are some people out there about this thing and they're not trying to tell us how to make our cars go faster, or make our racing better, they’re trying to tell us how to keep our drivers alive.'"


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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