DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - The Daytona 500 will go off as planned.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said the track will “be ready to go racing” in time for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The green flag will drop a day after a horrific accident injured fans and drivers, and damaged several safety features.
At least 30 spectators 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 said he doesn’t anticipate moving any fans from those affected seats for Sunday’s race. He said 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 wasn’t enough time to replace 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.”
NASCAR and track officials did not know how much fencing would need to replaced or repaired. Same with the impact-absorbing soft walls.
But the track’s recent history with expediting repairs for the 500 could only help the race start as scheduled.
“You try to prepare for as much as you can,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. “You also take away and learn from every incident.”
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.