'We'll be ready' for Daytona 500, track boss says after crash that injured dozens of fans
Associated Press , DAN GELSTON AP Sports Writer
6:28 PM, Feb 23, 2013
6:52 PM, Feb 23, 2013
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said "We'll be ready to go racing" and is confident the track will be repaired in time Sunday for the Daytona 500.
At least 28 NASCAR fans were injured Saturday when large chunks of debris, including a tire, sailed into the grandstands when a car flew into the fence on a frightening last-lap accident in the second-tier Nationwide Series race.
Chitwood says he doesn't anticipate moving any fans from those affected seats for Sunday's race. He says the fence that separates the track from the seats will be repaired. The grandstands where fans were injured are about 200 feet from the start-finish line.
This will be the third time in four years the track has needed major repairs on Daytona 500 weekend. The 2010 race was interrupted for more than two hours because of a pothole on the track. Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into a jet dryer in last year's race that caused a raging inferno that stopped the event for two hours.
"We're very confident that we'll be ready for tomorrow's event with the 55th running of the Daytona 500," Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's senior vice president of racing operations, said. "As with any of these incidents, we'll conduct a thorough review and work closely with the tracks as we do with all our events, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future."
Chitwood said there where was not enough time to put back the crossover gate, which allows fans to walk from the grandstands to the infield.
He stressed proper safety protocols were met.
"Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area," he said. "With the fencing being prepared tonight to our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes."
The accident happened the day before the Daytona 500, the season-opening race in the Sprint Cup series and NASCAR's biggest race. The horror in the stands marred what had been a week of celebration that kicked off with Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win a pole in the premier series.
Wreckage flew into the upper deck and emergency crews treated fans on both levels. There were five stretchers that appeared to be carrying fans out, and a helicopter flew overhead. A forklift was used to pluck driver Kyle Larson's engine out of the fence, and there appeared to be a tire in the stands.
Across the track, fans pressed against a fence and used binoculars trying to watch. Reporters were threatened to leave the area.
Hours after the wreck, the fence was down and soft walls were being repaired as TV news helicopters hovered overhead
Otherwise, it was business as usual as the track underwent its makeover for "The Great American Race." The stages for driver introductions and the pre-race concert were already in place, as were the generators on pit road. The Daytona 500 logo was being painted on the grass and other track logs got a touch up. If not for the steady buzz from the welding done on the fence, it would look like any other late Saturday night at Daytona.
Fans seated in the area of the wreck uploaded videos on YouTube that showed fans feeing in horror and covering their heads as tires and an engine hurled their way. Most of the videos were soon removed from YouTube.
The scene was similar to a 2009 race at Talladega Superspeedway -- Daytona's sister track in Alabama -- when Carl Edwards' car went sailing into the fence on a last-lap accident.