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10 fans injured, cars damaged when Fox overhead camera rope snaps

- rbonnell@charlotteobserver.com jjones@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, May. 26, 2013

A nylon rope used to suspend a Fox Sports overhead television camera came loose during Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600, injuring at least 10 fans.

Track officials announced early Monday that all 10 fans have now been treated and released. Three of the fans were taken to area hospitals and seven were treated at the racetrack. Fox Sports announced late Sunday that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

The incident happened 121 laps into the 400-lap race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Long strands of the rope got tangled in some cars, causing damage to then-race leader Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota and Marcos Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford. The race was delayed about 26 minutes.

The nylon rope fell on the grandstand along Turn 4. The track described the rope as a guide to the “CamCat,” overhead camera system, which Fox uses for a variety of sports.

The all-star race on May 18 and the Coca-Cola 600 was the first time the system has been used at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It snapped down and then flew down everywhere,” said Alec Schaffer, 22, of Richmond, Va., who was not injured. “Hats, popcorn, concessions were flying. It flew back up and everyone started holding the wire. Everyone was like, ‘what is going on?’ and then we realized it was the cable.

“It was grabbing people’s hats, drinks, everything. Someone’s hat had to have gone 25 feet in the air.”

One of the injured fans, Todd Seymour of Lenoir, said that despite some fans saying they heard the rope snap, he did not. Instead, the rope hit the back of his head and came to rest on his right shoulder and right arm.

“I picked it up and it took back off,” Seymour said. “When it took back off, it caused the burn.”

Seymour had his right forearm treated and wrapped in gauze 6 inches wide.

He said his injury was more of an abrasion than a cut, though he did see one fan in front of him bleeding “really bad.” That fan left through the stairway and onto the concourse between sections D and E.

Also among those hit was 9-year-old Tanner Trice, who was attending his first race Sunday. He was hit on the left side of his face.

“I was watching the race and I didn’t know that it fell,” Tanner said. “I looked back and then I saw a couple other people get hurt. They were rolling it up and a little hit me in the face, so then my mom took me down (to the concourse). Then she got me checked out and they said I was fine.”

After treatment at an ambulance on the concourse, Tanner and his family, from Pittsburgh, Pa., were back in their seats in about 10 minutes.

“It hurt,” Tanner said. “It felt like it scratched me and felt a little bit hot.”

Two of the injured fans were taken to Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast, and one was taken to CMC-University.

The overhead camera technology is commonplace for NFL and premier college football games but is relatively new to NASCAR telecasts. Fox used it at Daytona this year, and ABC/ESPN has used it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway without issue.

A cable strung 2,900 feet between two cranes parked outside the Speedway supports the camera. It can reach speeds of 85 mph as it zips along the line, which is about 140 feet above the track at the boundaries and dips to about 45 feet above the pavement at the midpoint of its course.

Fox Sports said that the cause of the failure was not immediately known. It appeared that the drive rope – which moves the camera – became undone and fell to the track.

Fox Sports said the failure was under investigation.

“A full investigation is planned, and use of the camera is suspended indefinitely,” Fox’s statement said.

“Our immediate concern is with the injured fans,” Fox Sports spokesman Erik Arneson said.

NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes also released a statement: “NASCAR will work closely with our partners at Fox on their investigation of the CamCat issue tonight,” it said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the fans.”

Race halted

With two cars, including the race leader, severely damaged through no fault of the race teams, NASCAR took the rare step to red flag the race, then allowed a 15-minute grace period for each crew to inspect its car and try to fix any damage. Busch said of his car, “it’s pretty killed,” including damage to his right front bumper and grill.

Despite that concern, Busch’s crew addressed enough damage that they kept him in the lead after racing was resumed. NASCAR decided to allow cars to regain their track position from before rope’s fall.

Busch’s engine failed around Lap 252, ending his night. He spoke to reporters about the rope incident and his thoughts about the moving camera.

“I just heard a big thunk on the right front tire and thought the right front tire blew out,” Busch said. “It felt like a blowout. Maybe now we can get rid of that thing.”

In February, more than two dozen were injured by a violent, 12-car wreck on the last lap of the NASCAR Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway. The wreck tore a hole in the safety fence and sent debris – including a wheel – careening into the front-stretch grandstand.

From 1990 to 2010, at least 46 spectators died at U.S. auto racing events, an Observer analysis found. Most of the accidents occurred at small ovals and off-road courses. But six of the victims were attending races at large tracks.

Those victims included three fans who were killed when a wreck caused a tire to fly into the grandstand at an Indy Racing League race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999. That accident prompted track officials to raise the catch fence from 15 to 21 feet.

In May 2000, 107 people were injured when a pedestrian walkway collapsed and race fans fell 23 feet to asphalt.

Staff writers Mark Washburn, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Ben Weinrib contributed.

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