DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Not long after a horrific crash caused carnage in the main grandstand of Daytona International Speedway, workers swept in to hurriedly make repairs.
Rest assured, NASCAR’s biggest race will go on.
The green flag is set to drop Sunday for the Daytona 500 less than 24 hours after a last-lap crash injured at least 30 spectators and ripped apart a chunk of fencing that protects the mammoth seating areas at stock car racing’s most famous track.
Large chunks of debris, including a tire, landed in the stands after Kyle Larson’s car launched into the fence about 200 feet from the finish line during a race in the second-tier Nationwide series.
Speedway President Joie Chitwood declared the track will “be ready to go racing,” and there were no plans to move fans who have those same seats where the wounded were strewn about Saturday.
This was 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 in the track. Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into a jet dryer in last year’s race, igniting a raging inferno that caused another two-hour delay.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be ready,” said Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations. “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 a gate in the damaged section of fencing, which allows fans to walk from the grandstands to the infield. Otherwise, it might be difficult to find any evidence of where the wreck occurred.
The speedway president stressed that all safety protocols were met, perhaps preventing a more tragic result.
“Our security maintained a buffer that separates the fans from the fencing area,” he said.
NASCAR and track officials didn’t know how much fencing would need to replaced or repaired. Sections of the impact-absorbing soft walls had to be fixed, too.
But the track’s recent history with expediting repairs was expected to speed along the process.
“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 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 both the upper and lower decks, and emergency crews treated fans on both levels. There were five stretchers that appeared to be carrying fans out.