Group sues over allegedly counterfeit racing gear

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A racing safety manufacturer who endured criticism over the role his former company’s seat belt may have played in Dale Earnhardt’s death now faces accusations his new company used counterfeit certification labels on some of its products.

SFI Foundation Inc. has filed a lawsuit and sought a restraining order against Bill Simpson’s Impact Racing LLC to ban the sale of fire suits, seat belts and other uncertified Impact gear it says bear counterfeit SFI labels or patches.

A federal judge in Indianapolis on Thursday issued an order granting much of what SFI wanted, said Paul Yarbrough, an attorney for the not-for-profit. Yarbrough did not immediately have details of the order available and it did not appear in the court’s online docket Thursday.

California-based SFI sets standards for several racing organizations, including NASCAR, the National Hot Rod Association and the Indy Racing League.

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The lawsuit alleges that between November 2005 and August 2008, Simpson instructed an Impact employee to have an Asian vendor produce counterfeit SFI labels that were affixed to various products, including seat belts, arm restraints, fire suits, head socks, gloves and boots.

SFI plans to decertify those Impact products made during that time, Yarbrough said.

The sale of conformance labels to manufacturers is SFI’s main source of income and its loss would cause a “severe financial hardship,” SFI said in its lawsuit.

SFI and Impact issued a joint statement Thursday night saying Impact had provided sworn testimony that no counterfeit SFI labels have been used on company products made in 2009 and 2010. SFI said it will not decertify Impact products made in those years.

“All SFI labeled products currently being sold by Impact Racing have current SFI certification and legally obtained labels,” Impact said in a separate statement posted on its Web site. “The safety of our products has in no way been compromised.”

The complaint accuses Impact of counterfeiting, fraud and misrepresentation, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices and breach of contract and seeks unspecified damages.

An Impact Racing employee who answered the phone Thursday said Simpson was not available for comment. A phone message also was left at the office of Impact Racing’s Indianapolis attorney, Edward Harris III.

Simpson is a well-known racing safety manufacturer credited with inventing the parachute used to slow drag racers. But he endured controversy following Earnhardt’s death at the 2001 Daytona 500 when NASCAR officials concluded a Simpson seat belt had separated at impact and as a result, Earnhardt probably hit the steering wheel.

Simpson countered that his belts did not fail when properly installed. He also said he had long warned Earnhardt, a friend, that he was not installing his belts properly.

A six-month investigation by NASCAR and independent experts concluded in August 2001 that several forces — including the angle of impact, the speed of his car and the torn seat belt — combined to cause the skull fracture from which Earnhardt died.

Simpson later resigned as a consultant for Simpson Performance Products, the company he founded and eventually sold.

In 2002, Simpson filed a defamation lawsuit that accused NASCAR of wrongly blaming his former company’s seat belt for Earnhardt’s death. The suit was later dropped.

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