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Bill Simpson, legendary motorsports safety pioneer, dies at 79

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Motorsports safety pioneer Bill Simpson died Monday after suffering a stroke last week, according to the Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was 79.

Simpson was a 2003 inductee of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, which recognized his long career in racing. He began as a drag racer and moved on to open-wheel racing, finishing 13th in the 1974 Indianapolis 500. After ending his career as a driver, he focused on Simpson Performance Products, which he founded.

One of the company’s primary thrusts was racing safety, of which Simpson became a passionate advocate after breaking both arms in a 1958 drag racing crash.

“Until then, I was like most drivers,” Simpson was quoted as saying in his Motorsports Hall of Fame biography. “The only time I thought about safety was after I’d been hurt. This time, I was hurt bad enough to do a lot of thinking.”

Simpson is credited with helping spearhead many innovations and developed hundreds of safety products, including the first parachute in drag racing, the firesuit, heat shields and several generations of helmets.

His seat belts were used by dozens of famous drivers but also were at the center of the biggest controversy of Simpson’s career. Dale Earnhardt was wearing a Simpson-manufactured seat belt when he was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. An accident report from NASCAR attributed Earnhardt’s skull fracture in part to his Simpson left-lap belt becoming separated.

Simpson filed an $8.5-million defamation of character lawsuit against NASCAR. After receiving death threats (and also having his tires slashed and bullets fired into his home in Charlotte, N.C.), he resigned from Simpson Performance Products in July 2001. But he remained in the safety business, forming Impact Racing.

His vigilance and belief in the quality of his products was legendary, particularly their flame-retardant ability. In 1986, he set himself on fire while wearing one of his suits to prove its efficacy.

McLaren F1 drivers and senior management agree to pay cuts

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McLaren Formula One drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris are taking pay cuts, while the team is furloughing other employees as part of protective cost-cutting during the coronavirus pandemic.

With F1 racing suspended, McLaren said both drivers and senior management, including chief executive Zak Brown, all agreed to voluntary pay decreases. No figure was given, but McLaren said the percentage of the cut is the same for all employees who are not furloughed.

McLaren said in an email that “these measures are focused on protecting jobs in the short term to ensure our employees return to full-time work as the economy recovers.”

Sainz Jr. tweeted his support, saying “I fully understand these tough decisions and I have obviously decided to take a pay cut. We are all in this together.”

The first eight races of the 22-race campaign have been called off because of the virus. The season-opening Australian GP and the showpiece Monaco GP have been canceled, while the others might be rescheduled.

There is no date set for when the season might start, with the Canadian GP the next scheduled race on the disrupted calendar on June 14.

The season is scheduled to finish with the Abu Dhabi GP on Nov. 29, but F1 organizers previously said they anticipated that “the season end date will extend beyond our original end date.”

To further save costs and potentially gain time, engine manufacturers and teams are observing a three-week factory shutdown period. It normally would have been two weeks and would have taken place during the midseason summer break.