Daytona 500 will run as scheduled despite fiery crash that injured at least 28 fans

Posted at 11:05 AM, Feb 24, 2013

(CNN) – The Daytona 500 will take place as scheduled Sunday despite a jaw-dropping crash a day earlier that flung debris into the stands at the Daytona International Speedway.

At least 28 fans were injured when more than a dozen cars piled up in the final curve of the Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Saturday. Some of the debris went over a 22-foot-high fence that was built in 2010, and some of it went through holes as the fence shredded when a car slammed into it and bounced back onto the track.

“At 8 a.m., we met with NASCAR, we reviewed all of the repairs that we made last evening,” speedway president Joie Chitwood told reporters Sunday morning. “We worked late into the evening and are prepared to go racing today.”

Some of the fans who were sitting in that area will be back for Sunday’s race, which begins just after 1 p.m. ET, Chitwood said.

“We’re going to make sure that they have good accommodations to enjoy the event,” he said.

The wreck occurred when several closely packed cars were jostling for position at top speeds of about 175 mph. They got tangled up, setting off a dangerous chain reaction that ensnared a number of vehicles.

Reigning Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski, who later told CNN on Saturday that he and others were simply “going for the win,” was among those involved, while Tony Stewart somehow emerged unscathed and won the race.

Driver Kyle Larson’s vehicle ended up flying into a fence that separates the track from spectators. The car broke into pieces, including tires and a fiery engine.

Larson walked away from the crash, even after the front part of his No. 32 car was gone. He and the other nine drivers involved told reporters that they were checked at a medical tent on the Daytona infield and released.

Some pieces of the shredded debris flew into the barrier, while others got into the stands — some of it reaching the second level.

Chitwood said the fence had been replaced after a similar incident at Talladega where a car hit the fence and seven fans were injured.

A video posted on YouTube shows a cloud of debris flying into stands and one man gasping, “Oh, my God.” A tire rests on one seat, as a man frantically waves and yells to get the attention of paramedics.

Afterward, several spectators could be seen lying down after apparently suffering injuries. About 10 ambulances lined up on the track, with some first responders carrying stretchers.

Fourteen fans were treated at an on-site medical facility, and 14 others were transported to area hospitals, Chitwood told reporters.

“I’m just hoping everyone is OK,” Keselowski said. “As drivers, we assume the risk. But fans do not.”

NASCAR president Mike Helton earlier told ESPN, which was broadcasting the race, that some people were taken to Halifax Health Medical Center. He said the protective fence did its job in preventing potentially more injuries and possibly deaths.

Byron Cogdell, a spokesman for the hospital, told CNN that his facility treated 12 patients.

Staff at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center treated four people, spokeswoman Lindsay Rew said Saturday evening.

The injured include Eddie Huckaby, a 53-year-old Krum, Texas, resident who suffered a leg gash when a large piece of metal hit him as he was watching the race, his brother Terry Huckaby told CNN affiliate WKMG. He described part of the motor landing in the stands, as well as a wheel, “and everything flying over your head and debris everywhere.”

“He’s doing fine,” Terry Huckaby said of his brother, who had surgery at Halifax Health Medical Center. “The first thing he said, ‘I don’t want to miss that (Daytona 500) race, but I have to watch on TV.’ ”

Accidents are nothing new to NASCAR, where cars often cruise at speeds near 200 mph, nor are they new to the Daytona track. One of the sport’s most horrific, and well-known, wrecks happened in the 2001 Daytona 500, when seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed — also on that race’s final lap.

Still, injuries and fatalities to spectators are much rarer.