Cumberland Times-News

February 24, 2013

At Daytona 500, spectator safety on everyone’s mind

Saturday crash that injured fans raises questions

mark long
Associated Press

— DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Raymond Gober parked his motorcycle outside Daytona International Speedway, climbed off and briefly considered bringing his helmet into the track.

“I was about to wear it in, but I knew everyone would be laughing at me,” said Gober, a pastor from outside Atlanta.

Maybe not.

Safety was on everyone’s mind before and during the Daytona 500 on Sunday, a day after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race hurled chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands and injured nearly 30 people.

With small spots of blood still soaked into the concrete seating area, the accident raised questions about the safety of fans at race tracks. Should fences be higher and sturdier? Should grandstands be farther from the track?

NASCAR has long been a big draw because of its thrilling speeds, tight-knit racing, frantic finishes and the ability to get so close to the action.

That proximity comes with some risk.

And after Saturday’s 12-car melee on the final lap of the Nationwide Series opener, some questioned whether that risk outweighed the reward.

“These are the best seats in the house, but they’re also dangerous,” Gober said.

Gober was one of thousands of fans who returned to Daytona less than 24 hours after Kyle Larson’s car flew into the fence, crumbled into pieces and sprayed parts at spectators.

Early in the 500-mile “Great American Race,” a nine-car wreck took out several top contenders.

Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and 2007 race winner Kevin Harvick were knocked out.

Maybe small, but there’s little doubt the latest fallout could prompt NASCAR and track officials to consider changes — at Daytona and elsewhere.

Daytona has plans to remodel the grandstands. Track President Joie Chitwood said Saturday’s wreck could prompt sturdier fences or stands farther from the action.

“It’s tough to connect the two right now in terms of a potential redevelopment and what occurred,” Chitwood said.