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Odd incident with camera taints Coca-Cola 600 Opinion

Monday, May. 27, 2013

We now have a brand new entry in the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” category: 10 race fans were injured and several Sprint Cup cars were damaged Sunday night at the Coca-Coca 600 when a nylon rope that moves an overhead Fox Sports camera fell into the grandstands and onto the track.

Seven of those 10 fans had only minor cuts and scrapes. The other three had to be transported to area hospitals, although their injuries were not life-threatening.

Pieces of rope snaked all over the place, damaging then-leader Kyle Busch’s car and wreaking havoc among some surprised fans.

The camera itself didn’t actually fall from the sky, because only one of the three ropes attached to it fell. Fox Sports said it didn’t know why its equipment failed, but said in a statement: “A full investigation is planned, and use of the camera is suspended indefinitely.”

Oh yeah, and they did eventually finish the race at 11:35 p.m. after more than five hours of racing. Kevin Harvick won, and the first words he spoke during his TV interview were to wish the best for the injured fans.

Other than Harvick and his team, though, nobody will remember who won this race in 10 years.

What everyone will remember was what Fox called “the failure of the camera drive line that interrupted tonight’s Coca-Cola 600.” The network said it regretted its “system failure,” apologized to the drivers whose cars were damaged and expressed its concern for the injured race fans.

The incident occurred about 181 miles into the 600-mile race. The rope led to two red-flag stops on the track totaling about 27 minutes while some pit crews repaired damage to their cars. It made the Sprint Cup’s longest race that much longer.

More importantly, that rope hurt those 10 fans. The incident violated the primary auto-racing tenet that it is very bad business to injure your own customers.

For the first hour following the incident, it was frustrating to hear Fox’s announcers frequently tiptoe around the issue that it was their network’s fault the race was delayed and the whole tenor of the night had changed.

Darrell Waltrip carefully called it “very unique.” The whole Fox crew kept bending over backwards to praise NASCAR’s response to the situation without talking in much depth about what exactly caused the problem in the first place.

They were like the kids caught doing something bad at school who tried to divert attention by complimenting the teacher’s new hairdo.

The network eventually got better as the night went on at owning up and apologizing for its mistake (although the announcers’ jokes about the “full moon” causing all the chaos came about 10 times too many).

It did announce the news that the fans were injured, said that an internal investigation would be held and showed a few replays.

It was a downright bizarre night, for Fox Sports and the speedway. And I’m not even going into how one of the “Duck Dynasty” guys gave the opening prayer or that Danica Patrick had a nasty wreck that was at least partially the fault of her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., or all the other late wrecks that turned the last third of the 600 into a spark-filled demolition derby.

Fortunately, we aren’t talking about deaths after an auto race. In auto racing, that has been the case far too often.

But we are talking about injuries to innocent people, and that’s not good, either.

Charlotte Motor Speedway prides itself on what it calls its “history of fabulous firsts.” The first 600-mile race in 1960. The condominiums built at the speedway in 1984. Night racing at a superspeedway in 1992. The world’s largest HDTV in 2011. And now, “Cablegate.”

“Maybe now we can get rid of that thing,” Kyle Busch would say later of the camera.

This incident is something that can’t really be blamed on the speedway or NASCAR, though. It wasn’t their camera, after all. Fox sets up the camera at events all over the world.

The network said it had used the overhead camera at last week’s all-star race and the 2013 Daytona 500 without problems.

And yet that rope is something that now will always be associated with the 600’s most unusual moments.

The nylon rope sliced through the night and into the speedway’s odd history, causing damage to people and to race cars.

And it made us all realize once more this disturbing fact – you never really know when something strange will fall from the sky and start altering lives.

Fowler:; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler