Thomas Bowles · Sunday February 24, 2013
Saturday, NASCAR’s day at the races in Daytona turned disastrous. Here’s all the information we can gather, in question-and-answer format to the horrific ending which has left dozens of fans hurt and a long night of repairs ahead for track officials.
Last Updated: 12:00 AM, Sunday 2/24/13
In NASCAR’s Nationwide race, the final corner of the final lap was a dogfight between leader Regan Smith, second-place Brad Keselowski, and other drivers behind them, closing fast. Keselowski, sensing it was time to make his move, pulled to the outside, getting even with Smith’s rear bumper before the driver came up to block. The resulting contact turned Smith hard right in front of the whole field and kick-started a vicious Demolition Derby incident that lasted all the way to the start/finish line.
Kyle Larson, running solidly inside the top 5 with his No. 32 Clorox Chevrolet, had nowhere to go, piling into the melee. As he was turned, his car tilted towards a dangerous angle and slammed into a special portion of the outside wall where the crossover gate is for race fans and officials. That portion is designed differently and creates more serious consequences upon impact; Larson’s car, once it hit, was ripped virtually in half, and pieces including a tire, the engine, suspension, and random sheet metal were sent over, into and in some cases through the catchfence. One front tire landed many rows up, in the midst of fans in the stands, while the majority of the motor and the other front tire stayed inside the catchfence. Debris could be found in the grandstands all the way into Daytona’s Upper Deck, near the Press Box.
How many fans were hurt?
According to the sport’s last press conference, led by Daytona track President Joie Chitwood III and NASCAR Vice President Steve O’Donnell a total of 28 fans were injured. 14 of those were treated on-site, at Daytona’s infield care center and then released. The other 14 were transported to area hospitals, based on the calls of Daytona’s emergency management. Our Phil Allaway is reporting, based on his digging, that seven are at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona, six are at Halifax Urgent Care in Port Orange, and one is at Florida Memorial Hospital in Daytona Beach.
Sources early on told me that two of those patients were in critical condition; reports that have been since confirmed. (Note: NASCAR, according to federal laws, is unable to release/report conditions of fans transported outside their premises). The Associated Press, in their last report upped the total number to 33 hurt, claiming 19 people, not 14, were transported to outside hospitals for treatment. As for where we are now… reports differ. The AP’s direct sources claim the two patients who were in critical condition have been upgraded to good condition, but that’s contradicted by USA Today’s Jeff Gluck, who, after a visit to the hospital, claims that one is still fighting “life-threatening” injuries. However, by Midnight, ESPN’s Ryan McGee reported via Twitter that both critical patients are now upgraded and injuries are no longer considered life-threatening. The bottom line, though is it remains a fluid situation, one in which there will certainly still be fans in the hospital, recovering when the green flag flies tomorrow for the 500.
How many drivers were hurt?
In that specific incident, none. All of them were treated, then released at the infield care center with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises. Kyle Larson was clearly shaken emotionally, though and canceled a planned race entry he had at Ocala Saturday evening. However, Nationwide regular Michael Annett, who drives the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, was hurt in a separate wreck just before the last-lap incident. He was transported to Halifax, in Daytona Beach complaining of chest and sternum pain and was given a CT scan. The official diagnosis, as of now, is a chest contusion, but Annett is being kept overnight for observation.
Will the Daytona 500 go on as scheduled?
Yes. O’Donnell claimed they’re “very confident” the track will be repaired in time for the start of the Daytona 500, shortly after 1 PM EST. Late in the evening, trucks were parked by the crossover gate and over a dozen workers were feverishly repairing the section of catchfence that was completely destroyed by the incident.
“We’re in the process,” Chitwood said when asked for a status report. “The only changes that will occur with the fencing that goes back, we will not have time to put the crossover gate that was there, so it will be strictly fencing for tomorrow.”
Chitwood also added that no fans would need to be reseated for Sunday’s race, maintaining all safety protocols were in place Saturday and the emergency response was handled effectively. All officials believe, at this time, that a 100% repair would put fans at no more risk than they already were on Saturday.
Did NASCAR ban video of the incident?
Yes. Shortly after the wreck, a fan named Tyler Andersen posted a scary video on Twitter in which the tire landed just a few rows away from him in the stands. Fans can be heard screaming in hysterics during the video, although the actual injuries are never shown. NASCAR chose to get it blocked on YouTube, citing copyright issues and, in a statement, claimed they made a push out of respect for the victims. CMO Steve Phelps did not specify what person, if any, inside the sport made the call to have the video pulled.
Has this type of wreck happened before?
Many have been pointing to Carl Edwards’ Talladega wreck in the Spring of 2009 in which eight fans were hurt as a direct comparison. But that would be short-sighted. Every wreck, based on the angles of impact, the weight of the cars themselves, and their speed when hitting is different. In Edwards’ case, the car lifted up into the catchfence and was thrown back like a pinball. Larson’s wreck was more of a straight-up disintegration; in other words, the car shattered into pieces and a number of items went over the fence as well as through it. The car also did not flip or repel back on track with the same ferocity as Edwards’ machine.
NASCAR, for its part, thinks it’s far too early to draw conclusions on the wreck and what can be done to improve safety.
“We’ve learned in the past,” said O’Donnell when asked if the crossover gate, which in this case absorbed a direct hit, will be removed/improved in the future. “Certain protocols put in place today are the result of prior incidents. Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it’s certainly something we’ll look at. If we can improve upon it, we’ll certainly put that in play as soon as we can.”
Are there any firsthand accounts by fans?
Yes. We were unable to collect any before leaving the track but a number of them have started to trickle in. Here’s some of the best ones we’ve read thus far…
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