A Nationwide Series race of the renowned NASCAR in Florida last month had shocking outcomes not only for the drivers, but for over thirty spectators after a spectacular crash took place. Several cars became tightly packed as they raced towards the finish line, and a collision between over twelve of them in the last curve of the race caused driver Kyle Larson’s car to bounce onto the track wall. The Telegraph reported that the impact caused the front end of Larson’s car to be “severely torn off”, and the tyre, engine and suspension parts landed in the fencing that separated the track from the spectators. The ensuing holes in the fencing allowed debris to fly into the crowd, while the 22-foot-long fence was not tall enough to prevent debris flying over and into as far as the second level of the grandstand. Paramedics on-site treated fourteen spectators while another fourteen were taken to local hospitals. Every driver involved in the collision was also checked for injuries. The Charlotte Observer reported that a piece of metal that flew 75 feet away from the track caused a head wound to spectator Steve Johnson and caused internal bleeding to his wife. Seated thirty rows away from the track, Mr Johnson acknowledged that “you can’t make everything safe,” and is not deterred from attending races in the future.
While there were no fatalities, the incident serves to highlight the risks to spectators in motorsports who are generally well protected from injury from track design and protective netting. While NASCAR has previously taken significant steps to protect spectators at major racing venues, by raising fences from fifteen to twenty-two feet, this incident demonstrates that even a barrier of reinforced wire and steel fencing is not immune to damage from high speed debris. According to The Charlotte Observer, Sam Gualardo of the American Society of Safety Engineers suggested that a canopy-like fence covering most of the race track like a “batting cage” would be a costly but worthwhile investment for NASCAR tracks.
NASCAR is reportedly undertaking a review of safety fencing at the Florida track after the unfortunate incident. As Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski told CNN, at speeds of up to 175mph drivers generally “assume” the risk of crashing, while “fans do not.” In the interim between additional safety measures being implemented and the remainder of the Daytona 500 Series, perhaps it is up to fans to recognise the inherent risks of watching this dangerous sport.