Rusty Wallace has apologised to those who may have been upset by his comments about the airport that the ill-fated Hendrick Motorsports flight was bound for last Sunday but has refused to stand down from his belief that both the Blue Ridge Airport in Martinsville and the Talladega Airport are in urgent need of upgrading.

In the moments immediately following the news that the Beech 200 owned by Rick Hendrick had crashed while en-route to the Martinsville Speedway, killing all ten people on board, Wallace was one of the few drivers to offer their thoughts.

An experienced pilot himself, Wallace roundly criticised the instrumentation at the airports used by NASCAR traffic on race weekends both at Martinsville and at the Talladega Superspeedway, the site of Davey Allinson's fatal helicopter crash in 1993.

The Hendrick plane crashed in thick fog some seven miles west of its destination at Blue Ridge Airport, running into an area of exceptionally rough terrain known as Bull Mountain. Among the dead were Hendrick's brother John, son Ricky and nieces Jennifer and Kimberly. 1989 NASCAR Cup Champion Wallace was already a regular on the Winston Cup scene when Hendrick started his team in 1984 and, like many others in the Nextel Cup garage, knew several of the victims personally.

"My intentions certainly weren't to infuriate the folks running the local airports at Martinsville and at Talladega and I definitely didn't mean for it to sound as if I was putting any direct blame on anyone," Wallace said on Tuesday evening. "But when you have just found out that you lost some great friends in an accident like that and they stick a camera and microphone in your face, you certainly should understand the emotion I had building up inside when I made those comments.

"What I was attempting to do was point out that we have several airports where we fly in that desperately need upgrading," Wallace continued. "I know that I mentioned the Martinsville and Talladega airports. I stand behind my belief that they indeed do need upgrading. You can add to that list the airport we'll be landing at in a couple of days down in Atlanta. The airport there directly adjacent to the Atlanta track greatly needs an upgrading of their equipment.

"With these three airports serving thousands of private aviation passengers during race weekends, they all need to update their systems. Of all the airports we use in flying to and from the races, those serving the Martinsville, Talladega and Atlanta tracks concern me the most. In adverse weather conditions, none of them have the equipment that allows you to get low enough to get in appropriately.

"All of these airports need ILS (Instrument Landing System) facilities and they need them badly," continued Wallace, who has some 9000 hours on his pilot's license. "With ILS, there's a super-dependable and precise way of navigating the runway in IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions such as low visibility. You can get the vertical and lateral guidance you need to make a precision approach.

"These three airports that I pointed out have VOR (VHF Omni directional Range) and GPS (Global Positioning Systems) navigation systems available, but they need ILS and need to be upgraded as soon as possible. The older systems just don't get you down low enough. They are okay in VFR (visual flight rules - good weather), but we all know that you can't count on the weather to be that good all the time.

"What I'm really hoping is that what has happened will serve as an eye-opener to the state, county, city and local authorities and we'll see all the airports that we fly into have the ILS system up and running in the near future."