Officials address crash that left 28 fans injured following Nationwide race
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Fourteen fans were transported to local hospitals Saturday afternoon including one with life-threatening injuries -- and another 14 were treated on-site -- after debris from a 12-car accident on the last lap of the Nationwide Series season-opening race went into the Daytona International Speedway frontstretch grandstands.
A spokesman from Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, where seven fans were taken with trauma-related injuries reported that all the patients -- including the most seriously injured -- were in stable condition as of 7 p.m., as were six other fans taken to nearby Halifax Health in Port Orange.
One other injured fan was taken to Florida Hospital Memorial Center, but a spokesman there would not disclose the condition.
"We don't anticipate moving any of our fans."
--Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood on if fans will be moved for the Daytona 500
The incident happened as a large pack of cars were coming toward the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith moved up on the race track to keep Brad Keselowski from passing him on the high side.
The two made contact and a chain reaction accident ensued behind. The collision was hard enough that the motor from rookie Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet came out of the car and impacted a section of the front-stretch grandstand fencing.
At least one tire and debris went higher up into the grandstands.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR Senior Vice President for Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell addressed the media Saturday evening, expressing their concern for the fans involved and promised a full evaluation of both the car and the fencing.
“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,’’ Chitwood said. “Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.
“We were able to transport the individuals that needed care off property. We dealt with the other people on property. The team right now is preparing and will be ready for tomorrow.’’
He said grandstand seating for Sunday’s Daytona 500 would not be affected by the repairs. The most serious impact occurred at a crossover gate and Chitwood said that would instead be replaced with fencing for the race since there would not be time to install another crossover gate prior to Sunday’s race.
“We don't anticipate moving any of our fans,’’ Chitwood said. “We had our safety protocols in place. Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes.’’
Race winner Tony Stewart was understandably subdued in Victory Lane foregoing the usual celebration and joined dozens of other NASCAR drivers extending his thoughts to the fans in the grandstands.
“The important thing is what’s going on on the frontstretch right now,’’ Stewart said from Victory Lane. “We’ve always known since racing was started this is a dangerous sport. But it’s hard.
“We assume that risk. It’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.’’
Nationwide Insurance, the title sponsor of the race series, issued a statement.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the fans and their loved ones who were affected by today’s incident,” said Matt Jauchius, chief marketing officer for Nationwide Insurance. We would like to commend NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and the medical personnel involved for their quick response to the situation.’’
After immediately caring for the fans, track workers later began repairs to the catch fence, located only 50 yards or so away from the finish line. Photos show the catchfence did stop the motor and front axle of Larson’s car.
“But the biggest thing we know is we don't know everything we need to know because there are moments that occur that we've just never seen before and can't really plan for, although everybody's effort is directed that way, to make it as safe as possible for both competitors and for the fans,’’ NASCAR President Mike Helton told the ESPN television audience shortly after the race concluded.
“That's evidenced everywhere we go with the fences, cables, structures, and the gaps between the racetrack and the seating area. We're always made aware of the fact that we don't know everything.’’
O’Donnell stressed that it was too early to determine what changes may come out of this accident, but that NASCAR planned to examine all aspects of the situation.
“Some of the things we have in place, tethers, that sort of thing, held up, did their job,’’ O’Donnell said.
“But certainly when you look at this incident, there are some things we can learn and evaluate. We'll take the car, we'll do that. We'll evaluate the fencing and see if there's anything we can learn from where gates are.
“But, again, really initial right now. I think we need to take the time to really study it and see what we can improve on. If we can, certainly the safety of our fans is first and foremost and we'll make that happen."
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