Not only Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, but also NASCAR, is taking very seriously the incident on the final lap of the DRIVE4COPD 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona on Feb. 23 that resulted in 28 fans in the frontstretch grandstand being injured, some severely, by debris from the No. 32 car driven by Kyle Larson. After contact with the No. 7 of Regan Smith, Larson's car got airborne and sheared the catchfence, cutting the car in half. Most of the front half of the car wound up on the fan side of the fence, with several pieces hitting fans in attendance. Fourteen fans were taken to nearby Halifax Hospital, while the other 14 injured were treated in the track care center. Two of the fans who were transported to the hospital are still there.
During the following NASCAR race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, NASCAR Senior Vice President Steve O'Donnell held a press conference to give an update and discuss measures NASCAR is looking into to prevent such incidents in the future.
"As everybody knows, safety is first and foremost not only for NASCAR and our racetracks, but getting that right and making sure our fans can enjoy the most safe and entertaining environment possible," O'Donnell said. "I think our history speaks to that."
According to O'Donnell, NASCAR is not going to only look at the fence and try to come up with ways to improve catchfence technology at all of its race tracks, it's also going to look at the car.
As far as the fence goes, the first priority is the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Given the nature of plate racing, it's at those two track where such an accident is most likey. Actually, a similar incident, on a smaller scale, occurred in a Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega in April 2009. After contact between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards, Edwards' car got airborne and hit the catchfence. A smaller number of fans suffered injuries from debris that made its way into the grandstand.
O'Donnell said that NASCAR is working with Daytona International Speedway with hopes of finding a solution. Both are consulting with experts, including outside experts. NASCAR hopes to have a solution by May for the upcoming race at Talladega. NASCAR will hold its next NASCAR race weekend at Daytona in July.
"Really a two-phase process we're looking at," O'Donnell said. "Superspeedway racing with Daytona and Talladega is going to be the first concentration for us. We have a race coming up in May at Talladega. Anything we can learn in the immediate future that can be applied to Talladega, we'll do that."
After NASCAR and the experts enlisted come up with answers to improve fan safety at the restrictor plate tracks, the focus will then shift to other tracks on the circuit.
In addition to examining the fencing at Daytona and Talladega, NASCAR is also looking at changes that can be made to the car, itself. O'Donnell was quick to point out that Larson's car did its job from a driver safety standpoint, as Larson walked away from the crash unharmed.
But the car will soon be studied at NASCAR's Research and Development Center near Charlotte to see if there is anything that can be done to the car from a fan safety standpoint. According to O'Donnell that research is going to include discussions with the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports team to learn exactly how the car was fabricated and then an attempt to rebuilt the car.
"The next steps will be putting that car back together," O'Donnell said. "We'll use any and all technology we can, video, cameras. The benefit to us in this situation is if you look at Daytona, all the camera angles, all the video technology that's out there, we have the most technology we've ever had to be able to apply to this incident. So we're going to use that and apply that and hopefully learn from that as well. We'll go through each part of the car. Want to look at how everything held up that was in the car, the cockpit, the tethers."