USA Staff and wire reports
Daytona Beach, Fla. - The pits at Daytona International Speedway were cleared Saturday evening to evacuate fans injured when parts of a car went through and over the fence at the end of a NASCAR race.
It was unclear immediately how many people were injured or how seriously after several cars crashed and disintegrated in front of the grandstand at the end of the Nationwide Series race. Radio transmissions indicated helicopters were being brought to the pits to transport the injured.
The engine from Kyle Larson's car, which flew high and tore into the fence at the start-finish line, was seen burning inside an open area in the fence afterward. A wheel and lots of debris also were seen in the stands, where safety crews were working on at least five people, including four who were strapped to backboards. And at least two people were injured in the upper deck, where another safety crew with an additional two stretchers were sent.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said the series and track were working furiously to figure out the damage.
"There obviously was some intrusion into the fence," Helton said. "Fortunately, there was plenty of emergency workers ready to go. They all jumped in on it pretty quickly. Right now, it's just a function of trying to determine what all damage is done. They're moving folks to care centers and taking some folks over to Halifax Medical. We'll be able to update later on, but right now, all we know is everyone is working really hard on determining what all happened."
In an April 2009 race at Talladega Superspeedway, eight fans were injured when Carl Edwards' Ford flew into the catchfence after being bumped by race winner Brad Keselowski. Seven fans sustained minor injures in the incident, and Blake Bobbitt, 17, was airlifted to a hospital with a broken jaw after being struck by debris.
After that crash a shaken Edwards said: "NASCAR just puts us in this box, and we'll race like this until we kill somebody, and then they'll change it. I'm glad the car didn't go up in the grandstands. I don't know if I could live with myself if I ended up in the grandstands."
Travis Smith was among the spectators in the main grandstands that saw Saturday's wreck unfold. He was with his family.
"The damn car went through the fence. It shattered everywhere," he said. "Tires went flying everywhere. Hit a bunch of people."
Smith said his cousin, Caroline Morris, 15, was injured, hit by debris in the forearm.
"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. It was a sight to be seen."
Smith said he saw 4-5 people taken out on backboards.
Tony Stewart, who won the race by avoiding the crashing cars, appeared shaken after the race.
"We've always known since racing was started this was a dangerous sport, but we assume that risk, and it's hard when the fans get caught up in it," he said from Victory Lane. "So as much as we want to celebrate now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and the fans in the stands right now, because I could see it all in the mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at, either."
The Drive4COPD 300 had restarted with two laps remaining in the 120-lap race after it had been interrupted by a multicar pileup that resulted in driver Michael Annett being sent to a nearby hospital. As the field raced to the white flag signaling the final lap, Regan Smith's car was turned sideways.
"I threw a block there," Smith said. "I knew Brad (Keselowski) was going to try to make a move on me. ... If I'm in the same situation tomorrow (in the Daytona 500), I'll do the same thing again."
As cars began to spin, Larson's car became airborne and ripped into the catch fence. When it came to a stop, its engine was missing.
"I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone," Larson said.
NASCAR officials said all drivers involved in the second massive wreck were treated and released.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said everyone "seems in good spirits" among the drivers who were in the care center, but Earnhardt expressed concern for those in the grandstands. "Guess some debris went up there," he said. "I'm worried about everybody up there."
Brad Keselowski echoed those same thoughts.
"Watching a replay, my reaction is the same as probably everyone in the garage and that is hoping everyone in the grandstands is OK," he said. "That's really unfortunate for us as a sport. ... I think until we know the status of everyone involved, it's hard to put a lot of thought into the 500. Hopefully we'll know soon, and hopefully everyone is OK, and if that's the case, we'll get to focusing on Sunday."