CHARLOTTE, N.C., FEB. 16 -- The sight of Richard Petty's car breaking apart during Sunday's Daytona 500 is certain to become a regular rerun on television.
The scene is a good plug for NASCAR's safety regulations, and nobody knows that better than Petty.
Jay Hitchcock, who built the car Petty wrecked at Daytona International Speedway in Florida, said the driver told him: " 'If you had to plan a wreck, that's the way you'd want it to work.'
"Everything that didn't mean anything to the driver's safety collapsed and got away from the car," Hitchcock said. "What was meant to be there to protect the driver stayed intact."
After swerving, Petty's car twirled and tumbled along the fence that separates the homestretch from the grandstand, then slammed to the asphalt. Moments later, the car was hit by Brett Bodine's car.
It appeared that Petty was lucky to escape in one piece. But it wasn't luck. Within the cars in all NASCAR's divisions are safety features to protect drivers.
A steel roll cage in the driver's compartment. Several years ago, a bar over the driver was installed in all cars, on Petty's recommendation.
Seat belts that stabilize the driver's entire upper torso.
A specially made fuel cell that reduces the risk of fire and explosion.
Tires with inner liners that essentially serve as a tire within a tire.
A fire extinguisher located within an arm's length of the driver.
A treated-nylon, driver's-side window net that keeps the driver from falling from the car during a crash.
The drivers wear flame-retardent suits, gloves, shoes and socks.
As Petty careened along the fence at Daytona and hit the track, the front and rear portions of his car came apart. The driver's compartment stayed intact.
"We were real tickled the way the car around him was hardly bent," said Hitchcock. "Both ends folded up, but where he sat was extremely straight . . . We built the car for the way the back end broke off. And if the fuel tank is going to blow up, we'd rather it be in the infield than where the car was sitting."