Local track owners: Safety is top priority

ASSOCIATED PRESS An injured spectator is treated after crash Saturday at Daytona.
ASSOCIATED PRESS An injured spectator is treated after crash Saturday at Daytona.
Posted: February 27, 2013

'Just when you think you've seen it all in racing, you haven't."

Brandon Igdalsky, speaking from his office at Pocono Raceway, was referring to the terrifying crash on the final lap of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway. More than 30 people were hurt when a wheel and debris from Kyle Larson's airborne car flew into the stands.

The Sporting News reported Tuesday that seven people remained hospitalized .

Meanwhile, an attorney for three fans who were hurt said his clients are exploring the possibility of a lawsuit.

"The drivers understand the risks [in racing]," said Igdalsky, Pocono's CEO and president. "You never want anything to happen to the fans. But it is racing; crazy things happen."

Igdalsky knows about crazy, tracic events: Last August, Brian Zimmerman, 41, of Moosic, Pa., died from a lightning strike near the end of a Sprint Cup race at Pocono.

Such an incident reminds track owners and promoters to re-examine safety for fans and drivers at their facilities. All NASCAR tracks have catch fences designed to prevent cars from landing in the grandstands.

"Obviously, we ask, 'Are we prepared?' " Igdalsky said. "Our emergency vehicles can get to a place within seconds or minutes. The fence [at Daytona] did its job: It kept the car out of the grandstand."

Denis McGlynn, CEO and president of Dover International Speedway, said safety issues at the Delaware track were addressed last month.

"We had architects and engineers who helped design our Nashville Superspeedway look at our fences," McGlynn said. "They'll tell us if we need modifications.

"We have a measure of comfort beyond some other tracks because our speeds are slower: Cars aren't doing 200 miles an hour here."

As long as the Cup cars race in packs, multicar crashes are likely. One car gets loose and immediately collides with others, triggering mayhem. Would Pocono and Dover consider not selling seats close to the track?

"Fans want to sit there," Igdalsky said. "I heard some [Daytona] fans interviewed on TV say they wouldn't sit anywhere else."

Igdalsky noted that a 20- to 30-foot grass area between the racetrack and the grandstand (along the front stretch) keeps fans from sitting uncomfortably close to the racing action.

Three fans were killed during an IndyCar race at Charlotte, N.C., in 1999 when debris from race cars involved in a crash flew into the stands. The year before, three fans died at Michigan International Speedway when a tire from Adrian Fernandez' crashed car hurtled into the stands.

McGlynn said experienced fans are aware of the risks when they attend races.

"In our situation, the higher seats sell first," he said.

At Dover's 1-mile banked racetrack, most fans can see the entire track. Pocono's grandstand extends from Turn 3 of the 2.5-mile tri-oval toward Turn 1.

NASCAR tickets include a disclaimer saying the buyer "assumes all risks before, during or after an event," regarding injuries from "racing accidents."

Dayton ratings up

Sunday afternoon's Daytona 500 earned a 9.9 rating and 22 share on Fox, the network said Tuesday, the highest figure since 2008 and up 24 percent from 2012, when rain pushed the event to a Monday night. Surely, Danica Patrick's winning the pole position, leading twice for five laps and running third with two laps left hugely influenced the surge.

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