INDIANAPOLIS-Bridgestone/Fire-stone Inc.'s Cinderella Indycar season suffered a setback May 17 when veteran driver Scott Brayton's Firehawk-shod Lola/Menard slammed into the wall surrounding Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a practice run. Mr. Brayton died a short time later. ``We were devastated by what happened,'' a somber BFS spokesman said.
A puncture in the right rear tire threw Mr. Brayton's car out of control. The car spun 180 degrees and hit the wall at more than 220 mph. BFS engineers said the tire showed no signs of internal structural damage after running extensive tests on it and dozens of other race tires, the spokesman said.
Prior to the May 26 running of the Indianapolis 500 and it's rival U.S. 500 in Brooklyn, Mich., Firehawks were on winning cars in six of the seven Indy Racing League and PPG Indy Car World Series races. A Goodyear-shod car won the other race.
BFS racing officials also had to contend with the month-long efforts of United Steelworkers of America to publicize their boycott of the company's products following a labor dispute that has pitted the union and BFS against one another since July 1994.
The union lambasted BFS during a May 14 satellite press conference from Washington, during which Steelworkers President George Becker called the tire maker ``a poster child for corporate greed and irresponsibility'' and said the firm cares little for the consumers and communities it should be serving.
In Indianapolis, the USWA conducted its ``drop a black flag''-the traditional racing symbol used to disqualify cars charged with violating a race's rules-campaign on the tire maker with high-profile demonstrations.
The Washington press conference perplexed Bridgestone/Firestone officials, the company spokesman said.
``The union has presently decided to focus its activities on our Indy car racing program, which is even more puzzling, as some of our Indy car tires are being made by its own members at our technical center in Akron,'' the spokesman said. ``(Some race tires) are being made in Tokyo, but we never made a secret of that. We always said we would use all the resources available to us.''
During month-long preparations for the race, union members passed out flyers and displayed anti-BFS messages by airplane, the spokesman said.
``I think the union is going to make some loud noises at Indy,'' he said just days before the actual race.