NASCAR, Tracks To Take Look At Safety Concerns Following Fans Getting Hit By Debris
Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood and NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell yesterday indicated that it was "too early to speculate" about how the catch fence performed Saturday when 28 fans were injured during a crash in the Nationwide Series race or whether "any additional safety steps need to be taken," according to Pulver & McLaughlin of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. O'Donnell said, "Anything we can learn will be put in place. Obviously we want everybody to be safe at an event." Speedway crews "worked all night Saturday" to repair the fence in time for yesterday's Daytona 500, finishing around 2:00am ET (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/25). In N.Y., Viv Bernstein reports NASCAR is "planning a review of catch-fence safety after the accident, the second in recent years in which a racecar went airborne, hit the fence and sprayed debris on fans." O'Donnell said, "It’s something we look at with outside experts. This will be an evolving process. If there’s something we can learn today, tomorrow, we’ll implement that." IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti "turned to Twitter on Saturday night after the crash to urge NASCAR and the IndyCar Series to change catch-fence technology to improve safety." Franchitti’s call "was echoed" yesterday by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford. He said, "Maybe a double fence, one behind the other with some space between to stop something like this." Chitwood after the accident said that he "didn’t believe fans close to the catch-fence were at risk." He said, “We’ve got very good safety protocols. I think we’ve done a great job being prepared for our racing events. Incidents do happen, and I think those are the exception" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/25). O'Donnell said that "some of the things that NASCAR has in place for the cars, such as 'tethers, that sort of thing, held up, did their job.'" But he added, "Certainly when you look at this incident, there are some things we can learn and evaluate" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/24).
STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN: The N.Y. Times' William Rhoden said NASCAR has taken steps to protect the drivers in recent years, but how to protect the fans “is the big dilemma." Rhoden: "Now they've got to focus on, ‘How do we protect the fans.’ ... It’s going to be expensive but there needs to be something” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/24). The Wheeler Co. Chair & former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler "predicts Saturday’s accident may prompt track owners to raise safety fences or move fans further from the most dangerous areas." He said, "If you put the first row about 30 feet back, and about 14 feet up in the air, that would solve almost every problem you’ve got" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). CBS' Mark Strassman noted part of NASCAR’s investigation "could include calls to reinforce the fencing or move fans farther back from the action” (“Evening News,” CBS, 2/24). ABC's Linzie Janis said, "Experts tell us that increasing safety for the crowds would mean keeping them further away from the action” (“World News,” ABC, 2/24). ESPN's Dale Jarrett said, "We’re going to have to move the fans back a little. It’s great that they have that access to be right there and see these cars stream by at close to 200 mph, but I think we’re going to have to move them back" (K.C. STAR, 2/24). NBC's Janet Shamlian said there are questions whether the catchfence “is high enough and are the grandstands too close." Shamlian: "But it’s that ability to almost reach and touch them that’s always been part of NASCAR’s culture” (“Nightly News,” NBC, 2/24). Speed's Kenny Wallace: "What I'm looking for now is NASCAR to do something like they did with the 'COT,' the car of tomorrow, when we reacted to Dale Earnhardt and we got a safer car. This is the new thing I'm looking for, 'FOT,' fence of tomorrow" ("NASCAR Raceday," Speed, 2/24).
FENCE DID BEST JOB IT COULD: ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote the fence "did the best job, against a harsher test, that catch fencing has ever done." It was the "result of years of research and improvement, after tragedies that took fans' lives." The engine from Kyle Larson's car, and "a wheel and A-frame assembly, tore through the fence." But they "didn't go into the seats." They were "contained on the concourse area in front of the stands. That was huge" (ESPN.com, 2/23). Stewart said, “You look at the structure that we have here at Daytona, it is an awesome structure. But they will look at ways to try to make it better." Stewart: "Everything they’ve done at this point has made it as safe as they can do it at this time." He added, “We know that parts went into the stands. The thing that’s been overshadowed is the fact that a 3,400-pound racecar went into that fence and stayed back in the racetrack side, which is what that fence is designed for.” ESPN's Ray Evernham said, “That fence was designed to protect the fans and yesterday, I feel it did a pretty good job of that. There’s always a risk with motorsports, and you manage that risk.” Everham added, “I was very impressed with the reaction and the preparation of Joie Chitwood and his team put in in the face of something like that. The reaction was as good as I’ve ever seen at a racetrack” (“NASCAR Now,” ESPN2, 2/24). But Speed's Tommy Kendall said, "Everybody says the fence did its job. It didn’t. If you lose the Stanley Cup after blocking 99 goals and one gets through, that’s not good enough. And this is life or death, so the fences have to get better.” Speed's Dave Despain added, “There’s not a fence that’s going to stop a 3,400-pound car. Heaven forbid there be two of those cars” (“Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain,” Speed, 2/24). IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay yesterday said the current catch fence "acts as a cheese grater, and the car is the cheese." Hunter-Reay: "When it gets airborne, the fence tears it up into pieces. It's an industry-wide problem and one we can fix quickly. It would be revolutionary for the sport, and it's at the forefront of what we've been talking about for five years" (USA TODAY, 2/25).
FANS NEVER COMPLETELY SAFE: ESPN’s Jemele Hill said, “I’m not sure you can ever guarantee 100% safety because how can you control debris? ... I look at this as a freak accident and not necessarily an indication that there was negligence” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 2/24). Driver Tony Stewart said, “It’s no different than going to a baseball game or a hockey game where you have balls and pucks that end up in the stands and people can’t react fast enough. It’s unfortunately just part of what can happen at pro sporting events” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 2/24).
CLOUD HANGS OVER FESTIVITIES: SI.com's Lars Anderson wrote what is "believed to be the highest injury toll from a race-related accident in NASCAR history cast a pall over both Jimmie Johnson's victory on Sunday in the Daytona 500 and Danica Patrick's historic afternoon." Many drivers "admitted that the Saturday carnage had left them shaken" yesterday. Even after Johnson "won and the celebratory fireworks were blasted into the sky and Johnson did a burnout on the frontstretch, there wasn't the sense of joy and excitement that usually pervades the garage and the grandstands after the most significant stock car race of the year" (SI.com, 2/24). In Charlotte, Jim Utter writes there seemed to be "an air of apprehension building" yesterday morning before the race. No one wanted to see the crash "repeated," but in the end "the racing took center stage." Utter: "NASCAR begins another job on Monday just as important as putting on its biggest race -- finding out what it can do better to protect the sport's fans" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). Also in Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes yesterday's "opening day excitement was muted by Saturday's carnage" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/25). In Boston, Michael Vega writes Johnson "wrested away the spotlight by emerging as the convincing winner of a race that was largely devoid of the problems that pockmarked Daytona’s previous four races" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/25). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes a "historic victory" by Patrick is the "only thing that could have helped put a happy face on an otherwise horrific weekend" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/25).