Autograph seekers limited
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 2:01 a.m.
Winston Cup schedule
Here is a look at the first half of the Winston Cup schedule:
RACE DATE Feb. 16 Daytona 500 Feb. 23 Subway 400 March 2 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 March 9 Atlanta 500 March 16 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 March 23 Food City 500 March 30 Samsung/Radio Shack 500 April 6 Aaron's 499 April 13 Virginia 500 April 27 TBA (California Speedway) May 3 Pontiac Excitement 400 May 17 The Winston May 25 Coca-Cola 600 June 1 MBNA Platinum 400 June 8 Pocono 500 June 15 TBA (Michigan International) June 22 Dodge/Save Mart 350 July 5 Pepsi 400 July 13 Tropicana 400 July 20 New England 300 July 27 Pennsylvania 500 Aug. 3 Brickyard 400 Aug. 10 Sirius Satellite at The Glen Aug. 17 TBA (Michigan International)
NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr. said Wednesday the possible ban is part of the sanctioning body's ongoing effort to restore order in the garage.
"We need to get the garage area back to where the guys can work on the cars," France said in an interview with The Associated Press. "So if we do this, when a fan asks a driver for an autograph, the driver will be able to say 'NASCAR won't let me.' "
A sport that has long prided itself on the level of access that fans have with the teams, NASCAR in recent years has seen an overcrowding that has led to numerous complaints from drivers and crews, as well as injuries among spectators.
Jeff Gordon is swarmed by dozens of fans every time he's in the garage. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken to sprinting to his destinations.
Crew members have griped that people surround the cars, making it impossible for them to move around, and fans have been treated for injuries from being run over by heavy tool carts or being knocked down in the crowds surrounding drivers.
Last season, a Tennessee woman charged Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart with assault for allegedly shoving her against a hauler when she tried to get an autograph, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
The Stewart episode forced NASCAR to re-evaluate its near open-door policy on letting fans into the garage, especially after several drivers went to the sanctioning body in support of Stewart saying the current garage access was creating near chaos.
So France said he's proposed only allowing drivers to sign autographs in the area immediately around their hauler and organizing a period once a weekend where all 43 drivers would take turns sitting at a table to sign autographs in 10-minute increments.
Punishment for signing autographs at any other time could be monetary - perhaps a $500 fine - although France said he preferred penalizing offending drivers by sending them to the back of the field at the start of the race.
"Obviously, it would be a judgment call on when a driver would be punished for it, but we've got to do something because these guys can't even walk around anymore," he said.
NASCAR plans to unveil the new rules for garage access later this month, France said.
But its goal is to reduce the total number of individuals in the garage during competition by some 20 percent.
Expected to be introduced this season will be special "hot" passes that will be given to team members, NASCAR officials and media that allow entrance into the garage while cars are on the track in practice, qualifying or the race.
Without the pass, access to the garage won't be granted. The rule is likely to be enforced on pit road during the race, but not during practice and qualifying.
Teams and sponsors will receive an allotted sum of passes each week, ending the near limitless supply they used to have.
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