November 28, 2020

Daytona Nationwide crash: 33 fans injured

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Kyle Larson, Parker Klingerman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Justin Allgaier, Alex BowmanJeff Owens and Bob Pockrass Sporting News

SAT FEB 23 – DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — At least 30 people were injured when car parts flew into the grandstands during a frightening Nationwide Series crash Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

At least 12 cars were swept into a melee on the final lap, with rookie Kyle Larson’s car lifting off the ground and slamming wheels-first into the front stretch grandstands near the flag stand. The front wheels and engine from Larson’s car flew into the grandstands.

According to Speedway president Joie Chitwood, 14 fans were transported to local hospitals and 14 were treated at the infield medical center at the track. The Associated Press put the injury toll at 33.

Chitwood and NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell, who briefed the media on the accident Saturday evening, said they could not release information on the condition of the fans injured, referring the media to nearby Halifax Memorial Hospital.

Halifax Health spokesman Byron Cogdell said 12 people were transported to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach and six others were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange. All were in stable condition, Cogdell said.

Lindsay Rew, a spokeswoman for Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center, said its Daytona Beach hospital had one fan there who was in good condition. She said three others they had been expecting were diverted to another hospital.

No fatalities were reported at either hospital. Cogdell said two people taken to the Halifax in Daytona Beach arrived in critical condition, and one of those had life-threatening injuries, but both are considered stable.

Fans sitting near the crash described the accident as “surreal” and “shocking.”

Ron Diehl Jr., who was sitting six rows up and about two sections from where Larson hit the fence, said debris from the accident was “raining down” but everyone near him was OK.

“It was surreal,” Diehl said. “I was kind of in shock.”

“As soon as he hit the catchfence, it kind of looked like the car exploded,” Larry Spencer, a fan from Pennsylvania, said after returning from the hospital. “There was pieces of debris flying everywhere.”

Chitwood and O’Donnell said that Sunday’s Daytona 500 will run as scheduled.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,” Chitwood said. “We responded appropriately according to our safety protocols and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.”

No drivers were injured in the accident and all 12 were treated and released from the infield medical center. Michael Annett was injured in an early accident and was transported to the Halifax hospital, where he was being held overnight.

The crash occurred about 50 yards from the start-finish line, where a wide section near a crossover gate was damaged.

Track workers were working feverishly Saturday night to repair the fencing.

“We are in the process of repairing this facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood said the area of the grandstands where the accident occurred will be used Sunday during the Daytona 500.

“We don’t anticipate moving any of our fans,” Chitwood said. “We have our safety protocols in place, our security maintains a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area. And with our fencing being repaired tonight to meet our safety protocols, we expect to go racing tomorrow with no changes.”

Chitwood and O’Donnell said that both the track and NASCAR will conduct an investigation into the incident to see what changes may need to be made to fencing around Daytona and other tracks.

“We will review where the debris flew and what we need to do with that,” Chitwood said.

“As with any of these incidents, we will conduct a thorough review and work closely with the tracks, learn what we can and see what we can apply in the future,” O’Donnell said. “… We’ll take the car and do that and we’ll evaluate the fencing and see if there is anything we can learn.”

Spencer tried to shield his 15-year-old brother from the debris. His brother suffered a gash to his left cheekbone, which needed three stitches.

Spencer was about four rows up in the Campbell grandstand right near where Larson hit the fence.

“As soon as I saw the pieces of debris go flying, I grabbed him and put my arms around him to shield him a little bit from any further injury.”

Spencer, who said he is attending his sixth Daytona 500, saw the tire and its assembly come up into the stands and land two or three rows above him. He said the person hit by the tire appeared seriously injured.

He said he believes his brother was hit by a piece of the car. He said he took his brother to the restroom to get him cleaned up initially because so many other people were seriously injured.

“There was a lot of people up in those stands that were in worse shape than he was,” Spencer said. “There were about two or three people that were laying and pretty much weren’t moving.

“There were some people that were in rough shape.”

Diehl, a fan from Maryland who has attended races at other tracks, was attending his first race at Daytona. He said his brother bought him the tickets as a Christmas gift and they were sitting together at the race.

“You saw the smoke and then we saw the impact and then parts started flying up in the air,” Diehl said. “We saw a lot of the foam (from the car or the wall), some of the sheet metal … and I kind of froze and ducked my head.”

The men have tickets in a different section for the Daytona 500. Diehl said he would sit in the same seats again.

“How often does this happen?” he said. “Hopefully everybody is all right.”

Spencer, however, said he would not sit that low again. His tickets for the Daytona 500 are about 50 rows up on the backstretch.

“After seeing what I saw today with people just horrified and worried about their loved ones and the uncertainty, I certainly wouldn’t sit there again,” Spencer said. “It’s as high as possible for me from now on.”

Nationwide Insurance, the title sponsor of the Nationwide Series issued a statement Saturday night.

“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. “We would like to commend NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and the medical personnel involved for their quick response to the situation.”

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