Two worst hurt NASCAR fans now stable

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The two fans most critically injured in the wreck at the end of Saturday's NASCAR's Nationwide Series race at Daytona were upgraded to stable condition, a hospital spokesman said.

One of those fans is a child, the other an adult. The child's injuries had been categorized as life-threatening on Saturday; as of Sunday hospital spokespeople said those injuries no longer were life-threatening.

Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said Saturday that 28 fans had been treated for injuries, 14 at the track's care center and 14 at local hospitals. Only two fans remained hospitalized Sunday. One of them, Eddie Huckaby — 53, of Krum, Texas — reportedly suffered a severe laceration.

The violent, 12-car wreck on the last lap of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway tore a hole in the safety fence and sent debris — including a car engine and tire — careening into the frontstretch grandstand.

Michael Annett was the only NASCAR driver who was hospitalized after the 11-car wreck in the closing laps of the Nationwide Series' season-opening race at Daytona. He was released Sunday from Halifax Medical Center.

Three other drivers, Jamie Dick, Johanna Long and Hal Martin, were treated and released from the infield care center.

The fan injuries happened after Rookie Kyle Larson got knocked airborne into the catchfence, a 22-foot wall of steel posts and reinforced wire that separates the track from the grandstand seats.

The fencing caught the front of Larson's car and ripped it away, leaving the car's engine and one wheel tangled in the fence. Another tire went sailing into the grandstand, as did large parts of the car. The tire landed in the stands, nine rows from the fence.

Chitwood said Sunday he did not know if the tire went over the fence, or through a hole in the fence created by the car. But from video of the wreck, it appears the tire went through the fence.

Chitwood confirmed there were fans treated on the upper deck grandstands from debris from the wreck.

Track officials were busy late into Saturday night working to repair the damaged fencing in preparation for Sunday's Daytona 500 — the elite's Sprint Cup Series' biggest race of the season.


Saturday's incident was one of worst involving fans in recent memory. The last NASCAR race in which fans were hurt was April 27, 2009, when seven fans were treated at Talladega Superspeedway for minor injuries when Carl Edwards' car went airborne and struck the frontstretch fence.

From 1990 to 2010, at least 46 spectators died at U.S. race tracks, an Observer analysis found. Nine were hit and killed by flying tires, including a 52-year-old woman who died in 2010 at a drag race at the Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix. The spectator deaths took place at all levels of U.S. racing, from big ovals and short tracks to drag strips and off-road courses.

There have been at least two other recent incidents during major American racing series events involving tires catapulted into grandstands.

In 1999, three fans were killed when a tire was punted into the grandstand at an Indy Racing League race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That accident led to higher catch fences that extended farther over the racing surface at the Charlotte track and elsewhere. It also led to a rule that "tethers" tires to the body of the race car in the IndyCar series.

And starting in the 1990s, NASCAR began mandating that wheels, hoods and other parts be tethered to the car frames so they're less likely to fly into the stands.

In Saturday's wreck, the wheel tethers apparently worked, NASCAR officials said. But a tether alone could not prevent the tire from becoming airborne because it was still attached to its the wheel hub and suspension parts, and a much larger chunk of the car went with the tire.

After the Talladega accident, Daytona brought in a structural engineer to review the track fencing, Chitwood said.

"We took all of the recommendations they made, and we actually installed new fencing at Daytona International Speedway prior to the 2010 season," he said. "So felt like we had done everything with respect to protocol in making sure we were prepared for yesterday's event."

NASCAR inspected the fencing repairs done following Saturday's wreck, Chitwood said.

"Incidents do happen and I think those are the exception," he said. "If you look at our 55 years in the business, we have a pretty good safety track record. I think we're prepared today."


Eddie Huckaby, one of the injured fans, reportedly suffered a severe laceration from his hip to his knee.

His brother, Terry, of Hendersonville, Tenn., controlled the bleeding by turning his belt into a makeshift tourniquet,, according to ESPN.

"Stuff was flying everywhere," Terry Huckaby told the sporting news network. "It was like you was in a war zone or something. Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else."

Byron Cogdell, the public information officer at Halifax Medical Center, said seven of the injured from the wreck were treated there. Six suffered traumatic injuries, with two initially listed in critical condition.

Six of the injured were also taken to Halifax Health Medical Center of Port Orange.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans," Chitwood said.

Sunday's Daytona 500 featured former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick starting from the pole — the first woman to accomplish that feat in the Cup series. Jimmie Johnson won the race, which ended about 4:35 p.m. Sunday with no incidents involving spectators.

Chitwood said he didn't expect there would be any need to move fans or alter seats in the area affected by Saturday's accident.

Tyler Andersen, a fan sitting in the seats near where the tire landed, posted a video of the last lap and aftermath on YouTube. NASCAR quickly blocked the video using its copyright authority.

"The fan video of the wreck on the final lap of today's race was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today's accident," Steve Phelps, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

"Information on the status of those fans was unclear, and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident."


The wreck began as the field was exiting Turn 4 and approaching the checkered flag.

Regan Smith, who was leading the race, attempted to block a pass from Brad Keselowski and instead got turned nose-first into the wall.

"I tried to throw a block — it's Daytona, you want to go for the win here," Smith said. "I don't know how you can play it any different other than concede second place, and I wasn't willing to do that today."

Larson's car appeared to strike near the cross-over gate — a section that can be removed for access to the infield. Chitwood said the gate would not be available for use on Sunday.

There have been previous accidents in NASCAR with drivers striking crossover gates, but they involved gates in the wall rather than the fence and involved part of the gate being left open.

NASCAR promised a full review of the accident.

"I think we look at this after every incident," said NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O'Donnell. "We've learned in the past certain protocols put in place today are a result of prior incidents.

"Again, our initial evaluation is still ongoing. But it's certainly something we'll look at. If we can improve upon it, we'll certainly put that in play as soon as we can."

In the hours after the wreck was cleared, the scene on the frontstretch of the speedway was surreal. Participants in Sunday's pre-race show were practicing as speedweeks workers busily removed car debris from the stands and repaired the fence.

Tony Stewart won Saturday's race, but NASCAR called off post-race media obligations out of respect for the injured.

Stewart, who has won seven of the last nine season-opening Nationwide races at Daytona, spoke briefly in Victory Lane.

"We've always known, and since racing started, this is a dangerous sport," Stewart said. "But it's hard. We assume that risk, but it's hard when the fans get caught up in it.

"So as much as we want to celebrate right now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and the fans that are in the stands right now because that was ... I could see it all in my mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at."

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