- Associated Press - Sunday, February 24, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Raymond Gober parked his motorcycle outside Daytona International Speedway, climbed off and briefly considered bringing his helmet into the track.

“I was about to wear it in, but I knew everyone would be laughing at me,” said Gober, a pastor from outside Atlanta.

Maybe not.

Safety was on everyone’s mind before the Daytona 500 on Sunday, a day after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race hurled chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands and injured nearly 30 people.

With small spots of blood still soaked into the concrete seating area, the accident raised questions about the safety of fans at race tracks. Should fences be higher and sturdier? Should grandstands be farther from the track?

NASCAR has long been a big draw because of its thrilling speeds, tight-knit racing, frantic finishes and the ability to get so close to the action.

That proximity comes with some risk.

And after Saturday’s 12-car melee on the final lap of the Nationwide Series opener, some questioned whether that risk outweighed the reward.

“These are the best seats in the house, but they’re also dangerous,” Gober said.

Gober was one of thousands of fans who returned to Daytona less than 24 hours after Kyle Larson’s car flew into the fence, crumbled into pieces and sprayed parts at spectators.

“You don’t have time to react, but I just remember thinking, `This is gonna hurt,’” said Steve Bradford, of Dade City. “We were showered with debris.”

Gober picked up a bolt that landed next to his left foot and plans to take it home as a souvenir from a crash that could have considerably worse.

He and Bradford have been coming to races at Daytona for years, always seeking out scalped tickets so they can get ultra-close to the cars zooming by at 200 mph.

Now, though?

“Needless to say, we won’t be here next year,” Bradford said _ meaning the seats, not the race.

Story Continues →