Autograph seekers limited


Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 2:01 a.m.

DAYTONA BEACH - NASCAR is considering a plan to prohibit drivers from signing autographs in the garage area at tracks to reduce fan congestion.

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Dale Jarrett signs an autograph for a fan in the garage area at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga.

The Associated Press

Facts

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)

  • Jeff Gordon is one of the circuit's most popular drivers and is often swarmed by people in his garage area.

  • 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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