SBD/February 29, 2012/Events and Attractions

Officials Consider Daytona 500 A Success Despite Challenges Caused By Fire, Rain

Chitwood said delays initially concerned him, but ultimately he was thrilled about fan support
The challenges to this year's Daytona 500 “made it one of the most memorable races in history,” according to Lehman, Swisher & Kelly of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood said that ticket sales were “on-pace with last year heading into the final week before the Daytona 500, so he considered it successful.” He also said that he was “pleased with the national television ratings for this year's 500.” NASCAR estimates that “about 140,000 people attended the 500 on Monday night, following the 180,000 who showed up on Sunday for the race.” NASCAR fans departing DIS' infield after the race said that this year's 500 “turned out to be one of the best ever in spite of a deluge of showers and the fiery explosion of the jet dryer truck that halted racing for more than two hours.” Chitwood said that he was “initially concerned about the inconvenience the delays would pose to fans with travel plans, but ultimately said he was thrilled with the fan support” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/29). In Orlando, Jessica Gillespie notes DIS and NASCAR “work with fire-safety crews to practice emergency protocols.” More than “700 track workers from around the world attend a three-day summit filled with refreshment courses to help train first responders at racetracks.” NASCAR President Mike Helton yesterday said, "Every year for the past several years we've hosted a summit that supplements our at-track visits with a group of NASCAR officials who focus on working with the tracks to address unusual situations that may happen at the racetrack that we know from experience." He added, "But what we do know from experience is that we came prepared for everything, and this evening was one of those incidents that everybody had to collectively react to" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/29).

NO HANDBOOK FOR THIS ONE: Chitwood said, "There is not a true training manual to light a track on fire and respond to it. There's no way to do that." He added, "That's something that you have to talk about in theory. The worst possible thing that can happen to a racetrack is fuel. We hardly ever talk about burning fuel. ... So I'm really proud of the way the team responded." In Daytona Beach, Ken Willis notes in a front-page piece the “next response will likely be at the upper-management level and involve possible changes to safety rules.” Chitwood: "We will evaluate this at a high level, once we catch our breath and deal with it. Safety is paramount, whether it's a track worker, the race driver, the fan, you name it. We'll go through an evaluation and if there's ways we can improve it, we'll definitely take steps to do that" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/29). Also in Daytona Beach, Dinah Voyles Pulver notes the jet fuel explosion “created an environmental concern, but a Florida Department of Environmental Protection official called Daytona International Speedway ‘a model of how to be prepared.’" FDEP Central Florida External Affairs Dir Lisa Kelley said, "They had protocols in place and they instantly implemented them" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/29).

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: Phoenix Int'l Raceway President Bryan Sperber said that the Daytona 500's 30-hour rain delay “won't affect this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500 schedule.” Sperber: "The impact will be mostly on the arrival times of some of the sponsor displays and Sprint Cup teams. We expect everyone will be here set up and ready to go on Friday” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 2/29).
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