DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. A wreck that injured more than two dozen race fans at Daytona Saturday could trigger fresh scrutiny of measures to protect spectators.
The violent, 12-car wreck on the last lap of Saturdays NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway tore a hole in the safety fence and sent debris including a wheel careening into the frontstretch grandstand.
H.A. Humpy Wheeler, former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, predicts Saturdays accident may prompt track owners to raise safety fences or move fans further from the most dangerous areas.
If you put the first row about 30 feet back, and about 14 feet up in the air, that would solve almost every problem youve got, Wheeler said.
Now, the first row of seats at Daytona is about 10 feet from the track fence.
Twenty-eight fans were treated for injuries, 14 at the tracks care center and 14 at local hospitals, Daytona President Joie Chitwood III said Saturday. Seven fans remained hospitalized Sunday, and all were in stable condition.
The fan injuries happened after rookie Kyle Larson got knocked airborne into the catch fence, a 22-foot barrier of steel posts and reinforced wire that separates the track from the grandstand seats.
The fencing caught the front of Larsons car and ripped it away, leaving the cars engine and one wheel tangled in the fence.
Another wheel went sailing into the grandstand, as did large parts of the car.
That wheel landed in the stands, nine rows from the fence.
Chitwood said Sunday he did not know if the wheel went over the fence, or through it.
Wheeler said his review of the video suggests the wheel went over the fence. If thats found to be the case, he predicted many track owners will have to spend millions to raise the heights of their fences.
And that, he said, could disrupt the sport completely.
The worst thing that anyone can think about is a wheel going over the fence, he said.
If its determined that the wheel went through the fence, track owners could face a different set of headaches.
Its possible to build a fence that could withstand the forces of an airborne race car, but doing that would require a thorough engineering study, said Samuel Gualardo, past president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, a group that has examined ways to make racing safer.
Was it engineered to withstand these forces? Gualardo asked. And if it was, was it engineered correctly?
Gualardo agreed that the easiest way to protect fans may be to move them away from the danger.
Obviously it will be a revenue decision by track owners because youll be eliminating that set of rows, he said. Thats probably why they havent done it.
That move could also make the sport less appealing to fans who love to be close to the action, Gualardo and others say.
History of fan deaths
Saturdays incident was one of the worst involving fans in recent memory.
On April 27, 2009, seven fans at Talladega Superspeedway were treated for injuries when Carl Edwards car went airborne and struck the frontstretch fence.
From 1990 to 2010, at least 46 spectators died at U.S. race tracks, an Observer analysis found.
Nine were hit and killed by flying tires, including a 52-year-old woman who died in 2010 at a drag race at the Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix.
The spectator deaths took place at all levels of U.S. racing, from big ovals and short tracks to drag strips and off-road courses.
In 1999, three fans were killed when a wreck caused a tire to fly into the grandstand at an Indy Racing League race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That accident prompted track officials to raise the catch fence from 15 to 21 feet. It also led to a rule that tethers tires to the body of the race car in the IndyCar series.
Starting in the 1990s, NASCAR also began mandating that wheels, hoods and other parts be tethered to the car frames so theyre less likely to fly into the stands.
In Saturdays wreck, the wheel tethers apparently worked, NASCAR officials said.
But a tether alone could not prevent the wheel from becoming airborne. Thats because the wheel was still attached to other parts of the car when it flew into the stands.
After the Talladega accident, Daytona brought in a structural engineer to review the track fencing, Chitwood said. Afterward, the track reviewed the engineers recommendations and installed new fencing, he said.
So we felt like we had done everything in making sure we were prepared for (Saturdays) event, he said. Incidents do happen and I think those are the exception. If you look at our 55 years in the business, we have a pretty good safety track record.
Full review promised
Saturdays wreck began as the field was exiting Turn 4 and approaching the checkered flag.
Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block a pass from Brad Keselowski and instead got turned nose-first into the wall.
I tried to throw a block its Daytona, you want to go for the win here, Smith said. I dont know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasnt willing to do that today.
Larsons car appeared to strike near the crossover gate a section that can be removed for access to the infield.
The wreck sent debris flying long distances. Chitwood confirmed that fans on the upper deck grandstands were among those injured.
NASCAR promised a full review of the accident, and said it would make any improvements found to be needed.
In the hours after the wreck was cleared, the scene on the frontstretch of the speedway was surreal. Participants in Sundays pre-race show were practicing as workers busily removed car debris from the stands and repaired the fence.
Tony Stewart won Saturdays race, but NASCAR called off post-race media obligations out of respect for the injured.
Ive never seen drivers as shook up after a race as Saturday, Wheeler said. Tony Stewarts eyes were about to blow out of his head. Hes a track operator, too. People didnt know if fans were alive or dead at that point.
Stewart, who has won seven of the last nine season-opening Nationwide races at Daytona, spoke briefly in Victory Lane.
Weve always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport, Stewart said. But its hard. We assume that risk, but its hard when the fans get caught up in it.
Long list of injuries
One of the injured fans was an unidentified child who, on Saturday, was reported to have life-threatening injuries. By Sunday, that childs condition had improved to stable.
Eddie Huckaby, one of the injured fans, reportedly suffered a severe cut from his hip to his knee when he was struck by a long piece of flying metal.
His brother, Terry, a plumber from Hendersonville, Tenn., controlled the bleeding by turning his belt into a makeshift tourniquet.
Sundays Daytona 500 featured former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick starting from the pole the first woman to accomplish that feat in the Cup series.
Jimmie Johnson won the race, with no incidents involving spectators.