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NASCAR Under Fire After Crash Injures Dozens Of Fans


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. The biggest weekend in NASCAR left the racing world with plenty to talk about. Jimmie Johnson won his second Daytona 500 and Danica Patrick became the first woman ever to finish in the top 10. But the event that may have the longest lingering effect on car racing happened at the end of a second tier race the day before the headline event.


CORNISH: A huge crash just before the finish line sent one car airborne. Some wreckage, including a tire, tore through the protective fence and into the stands. More than 30 fans were injured. Two spectators were in serious condition, but there are no deaths. Ryan McGee is a senior writer for ESPN the magazine and was in Daytona this weekend. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN MCGEE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So to start, give us a quick idea of what exactly is a second tier race and what happened in this race to take these cars down?

MCGEE: The best comparison I can come up with for fans of other sports is in baseball. You have major league baseball and then one tier below major league baseball is triple A, and it's a mix of young guys trying to work their way up and then older guys trying to hang on. And in the nationwide series, at Daytona, because it's the weekend of the biggest Sprint Cup race of the year, there are a lot of very big Sprint Cup names in that second tier race.

The cars are a little smaller, a little less horsepower. The races are a little bit shorter, but there's certainly going no less fast.

CORNISH: And the image of this wreck was pretty terrifying. Did the fence between the track and the fans do its job?

MCGEE: Yes, because the engine block that was so dramatic because it was sitting inside the fence, that's as far as it got. The problem was, was that the larger pieces, in particular a tire with the wheel assembly in it, which could weigh as much as 160 pounds, went over the fence, including some very large metal suspension parts. That's where the injuries took place.

So now the question is, could the fence be strengthened and now should the fence be taller?

CORNISH: Are there alternatives? Are there improvements that can be made and what are NASCAR fans calling for as a result?

MCGEE: Well, I think there's two things. I think there are improvements that can be made to the fence. The question is, what will they be. In the past, when we've had other incidents, you've seen them change the location of the poles that hold the fence together. You've seen them change the location of the metal cables that essentially create, you know, the grid of the fence.

Now you actually hear drivers, in the case of Dario Franchitti, the great Indianapolis 500 champion, immediately put on Twitter after Saturday's incident, he said it's time to get engineers in a room and it's time to get the smart people who have made these race cars so safe to figure out a better alternative to the way that we're creating catch fences.

And to me the bigger question is, how close do you let the fans sit. Race fans want to be as close as they can possibly be and they've always had that access. So to ask them to move 20 feet back is going to be a tall order.

CORNISH: Since the crash, you were actually at the hospital where the fans were taken. Did you get to talk to any of them and are any of them angry or upset about what happened?

MCGEE: You know, it was interesting because when I talked to the people who had actually been injured and I talked to their family members, this is the Saturday night before the Daytona 500. Most of them are coming from states away. I talked to a family that had driven here from Indiana. She had suffered a broken leg, was actually hit with the engine, she claimed, as she was leaning up against the fence.

And when I asked, are you seriously going to go to the Daytona 500 on Sunday, she said of course I am. She goes, I wouldn't miss that come hell or high water. She goes, I drove here from Indiana, saved my money all year. My family's dreamed of going to the great American race and we're going to go.

CORNISH: Do we have any sense of whether there are any lawsuits brewing?

MCGEE: That's a great question and we're starting to see those questions asked. You know, everyone played it very close to the vest as far as those who were injured that I talked to. NASCAR and NASCAR's track ownership arm that owns the Daytona National Speedway, they also play it very close to the vest. But when you talk to attorneys, they say that when you buy that ticket, there's an agreement printed on the back of every race ticket that says there is an assumed risk.

And typically that covers the track, but also in the past when we've had incidents like this, and it's been a while, the track and the track ownership groups are also willing to settle pretty quickly.

CORNISH: Ryan McGee, thank you so much speaking with us.

MCGEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.