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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.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.