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Helton tapped to run NASCAR's day-to-day operations; He'll take France's duties; Washington, Erving score; Daytona 500


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Saying, "You can look at the tea leaves as well as I can," NASCAR president Bill France announced yesterday that Mike Helton is the new senior vice president and chief operating officer of NASCAR and will be in charge of all day-to-day operations.

Helton, 45, had been vice president of competition. He is the first person outside the founding France family to assume control of the stock-car racing organization in its 51-year history.

"Mike will oversee all duties of NASCAR," said France, who will remain as president. "All departments will report to him. We needed to expand our management and I can't think of a better person.

"And, as you know, I'm 66, or I think I am, having been born in 1933. I'm still the president and I'll still be involved in some decisions -- but I hope the fish will be biting more. It's time for me to get out of the way. I believe in letting the young people have their chance."

France, whose son, Brian, is senior vice president and in charge of the marketing side, would not say who would succeed him when he totally retires and gives up his title.

"I'm not going to answer that," France said, then added: "This is a pretty good sign here."

Helton said he had no plans to immediately change anything.

France's father, Bill Sr., founded NASCAR in a Daytona Beach hotel in 1949. "Big Bill," as he was called, ran the sport with an iron hand until 1972, when he "more or less just walked out the door" and handed the reins to Bill Jr.

Green is in

Former Baltimore Colt Joe Washington and ex-NBA superstar Julius Erving can celebrate their Busch Grand National car making the field for Saturday's NAPA 300.

Driver Mark Green pushed his Chevrolet to 187.336 mph yesterday to capture the 29th spot in the field of 43.

"We're absolutely excited," said Washington, who will arrive here today. "We missed this race last year because we were rookies. Now, we've got good people who are working hard."

Maryland blues

A lot of Goody's Dash drivers had difficulty qualifying for tomorrow's Auto Parts 200, and that was bad news for two Maryland drivers. Both had hoped to get into the race on last year's points if they failed to find enough speed. Yesterday, the speed didn't come and the provisionals were gone, collected by three other needy teams in the 42-car field.

Steve Barnes of Westminster managed 151.983 mph in second-day qualifying, but that was only 48th-fastest, and Donnie Neuenberger of Brandywine failed to post a second-day speed when his accelerator cable came off the carburetor.

Barnes said his next race will probably be in Hickory, N.C., April 24, and Neuenberger's car owner, Larry Moore, said he expects Neuenberger to drive for him the entire season.

Diagnosis on Cody Unser

Al Unser Jr.'s 12-year-old daughter, Cody, has transverse myelitis, a rare condition that has paralyzed her legs.

Cody Unser, one of four Unser children, was hospitalized at New Mexico Health Sciences Center after falling ill during a school basketball game on Friday in Albuquerque. Her father has withdrawn from the IROC race.

Dr. Edward C. Benzel said it is unclear how soon she might improve.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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