Daytona 500: Race is on schedule after crash injured fans

The condition of fans who were critically injured Saturday by flying debris from a horrifying crash during the Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway has been upgraded, the track has been repaired and officials say they are ready to start the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl of auto racing.

The catchfence, into which Kyle Larson’s car crashed, has been repaired and the seats in which spectators were injured will be occupied when the race begins at 1:30 p.m. EST today. It can’t be easy, though, with the harrowing spectacle of the car disintegrating so fresh in fans’ minds. With pieces flying like shrapnel into the stands, one fan said the scene was “like a war zone.” Daytona officials said that fan requests to change seats would be honored.

“We have over 100,000 seats on the frontstretch, I think we’ve got very good safety protocol,” Daytona president Joie Chitwood said (via Yahoo). “We had a structural engineering firm come in to look at our fencing, and based on their recommendations we installed a new fence.

“Incidents do happen, and I think that those are the exception, though. If you look at our 55 years of business, we have a pretty good safety record.”

Twenty-eight fans were treated, with 14 of those taken to hospitals. Although Chitwood said he could provide no medical updates on the fans who were hospitalized, a Halifax Health spokesman said (via USA Today), that none of the seven patients taken there were in critical condition. Two had initially were described as being critical, with one having life-threatening injuries. However, the condition of both had been upgraded today.

Larson’s car will be examined by outside experts, NASCAR vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell said. “For the most part, the car held up; the tethers [on the tires] held up. We’ll look at every piece, what came off, what didn’t, what held. We’ll review the film of where it hit and every aspect of that car will be looked at.”

A crossover gate at the impact spot was not replaced during the overnight repairs; it is not yet known whether it played a role in the car’s disintegration. “It was like a war zone there,” Terry Huckaby, whose brother was cut in the leg by a three-foot piece of metal. “When the car hit, debris went everywhere. Tires flying over our head.

“When I said war zone, there was smoke from the motor. You’ve got to realize, a motor was sitting in the stands. And a wheel. I don’t mean a tire. A wheel with a brake-drum on it and everything flying over your head and debris everywhere and smoke and people crying.”

Travis Smith, a 22-year-old fan, told USA Today that, although his 15-year-old cousin was hit by debris on the forearm, he planned to return for today’s race.

“It was nothing compared to other people. … The last thing I remember, a tire was coming right at me. I turned my back and turned back around and it was panic.”

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.

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After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Cindy Boren · February 21, 2013

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