Daytona Tragedy Should Be Wakeup Call For Massive Changes At NASCAR’s Biggest Tracks

Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. In the realm of North American speedways, they are the big boys, the twin towers of motorsports.

The start of the Nationwide Series race Saturday at Daytona International Speedway (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Where bigger is better comes to life.

And they are also living dinosaurs.

Relics of a time in stock car racing when horsepower was still relatively contained and aerodynamic technology hadn’t turned racecars into launch ready fliers.

In 1987, when Bobby Allison’s car ended up flying into the catch fence at Talladega NASCAR reacted soon after by slapping power sapping restrictor plates to cars competing at Talladega and Daytona.

Speeds were cut down, but as evolution would have it, in a way the restrictor plates morphed into becoming their own problem causing agents, creating pack racing that only seemed to be the recipe for bigger, wilder and more ridiculous crashes, and higher flying cars joining the fray.

The term “The Big One” has become cliché in NASCAR, representing the absurd and massive multi-car pileups that have become regular occurrences at Daytona and Talladega. And over the past few years, cars taking off and getting back into the fences has become too regular of an occurrence again.

In 2009 it was Carl Edwards at Talladega, riding the fence after getting hit by Brad Keselowski. That wreck ended with seven fans injured.

It happened again Saturday at Daytona on the final lap of the Nationwide Series event at the track. When things got crazy coming to the checkered flag it was Kyle Larson’s car that ended up in the fence.

Watching replays it seems as if the fence was sandpaper to the front end of Larson’s car, making it disappear in a cloud of flying debris rocketing at fans. The crash also sent a full tire assembly from Larson’s car high up into the grandstand. When the tornado of cars passed by what was left was a gaping hole in the fence with the burning motor of Larson’s car sitting just a few feet from the grandstand.

According to track officials, 14 people were transported to area hospitals with injuries and another 14 were treated at the track’s medical facilities. The full scope of the injuries involved is still unclear, though media reports say at least two fans were in critical condition as of Saturday evening.

Across the spectrum of competition, evolution changes sports in plenty of different ways. The NBA is played above the rim, much different than say four decades ago. Golf courses have had to be redesigned because of improved technology of equipment. Football, hockey, baseball, they’ve all seen the rules or standards of the play changed because of the way each sport has evolved.

And it’s been seen plenty in NASCAR too, from the organizational structure of teams at the sport’s highest level to the changes in point systems to continued improvements in the safety of racing facilities and vehicles.

Change born of growth and evolution is only natural.

Then there are places like the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway and 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedeway. High-banked monsters that have long produced some of NASCAR’s most exhilarating competition.

Unfortunately, in 2013, they are essentially equal to leather helmets being worn for an NFL game. They don’t work. You can play with the variables all you want to try to find a happy medium so it feels safe, but eventually you have to address the core of the problem, that you’re playing with the technology of 2013 on a playing field that was built to hold up to the standards of 1960’s racecars.

The sport, the cars, the technology of the game, it has left these tracks behind. Though, NASCAR desperately clings to these antiquated behemoths. Nobody wants to close the Roman Colosseum, for where shall we see the Christians slaughtered by the lions?

Yes, motorsports are inherently dangerous. Yes, we’ve heard that used as a sooth the pain mantra for tragedy in racing for years. But there’s inherently dangerous and then there’s purposely dancing on the edge of disaster lap after lap after lap and calling that competition.

On Saturday there were those in NASCAR saying they had to start working immediately for solutions to fix what went wrong. A fix? A solution? That would be not racing on two tracks where disaster seems so close to reality not only for drivers but also for fans during every moment that a green flag is flying.

No fan should have to go to a racetrack worried about being killed, but yet NASCAR has allowed that to become an all too familiar fear.

This isn’t about improving the protection that stands between the competition and fans. It’s not about building a wall. This is about coming to grips with the fact that safely competing at these facilities is no longer feasible. This is about coming to the realization that to keep these facilities operating the tracks themselves have to be changed entirely.

You can’t keep throwing 3,000 pound plus racecars into fences over and over without tragedy eventually taking place. The undertone of “shock” that this could have happened should not exist.

Shock of seeing what happened is acceptable, but there should be no shock that it took place. With the competition evolving the way it has thanks to technological advances and improvements in the sport over the last decade, at restrictor plate events at Daytona and Talladega it wasn’t a question of if it would happen, but rather when will it happen?

And just sitting back and waiting for “when will it happen” should have been unacceptable in the sport.

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  1. Geoff Bodine in 2000 at Daytona. Not sure if anyone remembers this wreck since no one seemed to speak of it today. I was there… They actually re-designed the entire fence system at Daytona and Talladega. Something definitely has to be done to re-vamp the fences, make them taller with more supports and possibly a secondary layer of fence a few feet behind the front fence? But you can definitely never plan for every little thing. If you look at the video this was quite the "perfect storm" of crashes… He hit at one of the crossover gates in the fence which is most likely why the fence failed so horribly… That is definitely a design flaw in my eyes. Unfortunately no matter what you are never going to keep these cars or trucks from finding a way to become airborne… It has definitely happened too often lately… But what truly is the fix? No one knows… Not me, not you, not NASCAR not anyone. What happened today was sad… I myself usually sit in the tower seats right behind the flag stand when I attend races at Daytona… I know I will be changing those seats now… Thoughts and Prayers are with everyone injured.

  2. Are you people out of your minds! Close Daytona and Talladega! Yea that's the answer! How bout leaving it up to Nascar to make the improvements! They have done a good job thus far and they will be all over this problem! As fas as the Big One and crashes in motorsports well if that is no longer then unfortunately the fans will be few also! So I say with your liberal beliefs of Racing let the Big boys worry about the details and you just worry about your next story!

  3. Thoughts and prayers to all who were involved today~!

  4. James Short says

    Holy Crap he walked away TG

  5. Ut oh.. new debate to outlaw AR…Autoracing… I love racing but superspeedways are boring.

  6. more people get injured on highways should we close them to are prayers and thoughts go out to the fans today but you can not stop every thing this is life.

  7. Tell me what are going to do when a 3000lb 200mph animal desides to fly across the fence. Daytona an Dega have taken some of the hardest hits. They do the best they can in fan safety but read the top line an go figure. Prayers for the fans an fam an jus thank God it didn't get any stupider.

  8. I've always said I wouldn't suit in those seats in the lower section of the tri oval. Something needs to be done nascar is lucky they have made it this long without . incident in my opinion those seats should be empty tomorrow

  9. I agree Dave it's not worth the money to lose fans over greed an possably set a second catch fence up some.

  10. Really! So if a plane crashes you don't fly anymore? Davey Allison was killed in a helicopter crash. I see all the driver's still fly in to the track on Helicopters! Nascar will step up and make the right repairs they always have in the past!

  11. First, thoughts and prayers out to everyone affected by this unfortunate incident.

    Second, it's pretty obvious to me that the catchfence systems in place today are primarily designed to keep entire CARS from going into the stands…primarily as a function of what happened at Talladega in 1987 with the Bobby Allison incident.

    Now, while that is appreciated, and to this date, a car has no left the track an gone into the grandstands, it's clear it is no longer enough.

    We'll hear all about how "the fence did it's job", despite yet another wheel assembly broke it's tether and went flying into the stands resulted in the most serious of injuries.

    Well? It's not enough. As odd as it might sound, NASCAR was extremely fortunate that that engine did not launch another 10-12 feet further into the stands. A 300+ pound cannonball hurtling towards paying customers, which, oh by the way, has the elements of combustion, boiling water, and sub-components like fan blades, pulleys, etc. that can inflict pain.

    What do I suggest? First, raise the SAFER Barriers to a height of 10-12 feet – or some height, that via a scientific study, should prevent what we've seen at the plate tracks since '87.

    Then add another 33% height to that height for a safety cushion. Have to try and keep the wheel assemblies inside the fencing – no longer just the whole car.

    As a function of that, you'll have the issue of obstructing fan sight lines. So move the seats back, and if needed, higher. Football stadiums address this. It's called "stadium seating".

    See Bristol Motor Speedway for an example.

    Don't tell me about costs. NASCAR has the cash.

    Don't tell me about TV coverage. HDTV cameras are so small you can embed them in or on the walls.

    Larger Cameras? Control them remotely.

    NASCAR has been really fortunate on these occasions. And I pray the luck continues for the injured fans today.

    Count your blessings, Brian and ISC. NASCAR Fans should not have to count theirs.

    Make sure it's the last time.

  12. Louis Racicot says

    First off my prayers to the fans. That said you are an IDIOT to think they should stop racing there. A fan was killed when hit in the head by a batted baseball so should we close all ballparks?

  13. Louis Racicot says

    Furthermore they will never stop racing where the sport began

  14. John Andrade III says

    Okay… so the fact that Keselowski was put literally into the fence at Atlanta means we need to stop racing there too? Shawn you're usually a good sports writer… but today you have fallen off your rocker. Freak accidents happen and you mentioned 3 in a 26 yr span. NASCAR isn't IndyCar, and won't make a stupid knee-jerk reaction. The smart thing to be done is test fencing to see how the accident occurred, the probability of it being reproduced, then determining if a change is even warranted.

  15. Shawn Courchesne says

    First off, when did I mention anything about Keselowski in the fence at Atlanta? But, to make a point since you brought it up, no fans were injured when Keselowski got in the fence at Atlanta. That tell you anything? So John, 37 fans have been injured by debris from cars flying into catch fences since May 2009 and all of those injuries have taken place at Talladega or Daytona. Freak accidents do happen. 37 people injured in three separate incidents in less than four years is not "freak accident", that is in fact what I think most statisticians would describe as a trend. As many commenters have pointed out here, cars get into fences at other tracks. So why aren't fans being injured at the those tracks with regularity that they're being injured at Talladega and Daytona. So you're basically saying you think 37 fans injured (some critically) attending races over four years is an acceptable number for the sport and they should just move on and accept it as just something freak that happens sometimes?

  16. I just read this article. Though what happened was tragic, the wording in this article I did not care for. Im all for safety in sports. Antron Brown had a serious accident last week and walked away with minor injuries. I know that drag racing has nothing to do with NASCAR, but because of NHRA safety rules for the competiters and also not letting spectators sit 20 feet from the track, like in circle track racing, no one was seriously hurt.

  17. I agree with you completely. This is not racing anymore. This isn't how it was supposed to be at Super Speedways, waiting for the ""big one".

  18. Steve Violette says

    Life is dangerous.. We take chances every day. I'd rather take my chances than live in fear and expect others to keep me safe.

  19. Shawn Courchesne says

    And Steve, you feel the same way for the child that was critically injured yesterday? Just the way fate dealt the cards for that kid despite likely having no choice whether to be there or not? So you're saying don't try to do anything proactive to make something safer?

  20. Meanwhile the ratings should really go through the roof now as additional "TV fans" tune in hoping to see more carnage.

    Sharpie Fan

  21. Not sure what you can do to prevent something like this from happening again. From
    Pictures posted a tire was half way up the lower grandstand. That tells us it went over the fence,quite a ride. Fact of the matter is racers race to win and fans want to be on top if the action. That showed by several pictures posted if fans standing in harms way taking pictures. Actually for all intensive purposes the fence did just what it was intended to do, keep the car out if the grandstands. Considering the front clip was sheered off the car it could have been much worse. Like I said racers race to win and fans want to be on top of the action. Your not going to change that no matter what you do. Just sayin…

  22. After this incident I hope ALL short track owners take notice and make the necessary changes to protect their fans. Their is alot of inadequate fencing at facilities which needs to be upgraded.

  23. Shawn Courchesne says

    You say "This could have happened at any track", I respectfully ask then, why doesn't it happen at other tracks. Daytona and Talladega are not the only tracks where cars have been in the catch fence, so why are ALL the fan injuries happening at those places? There's too many people here saying "Oh it was just an accident, you can't control this." Thirty-seven people injured by flying debris from race cars over the last four years at Daytona and Talladega isn't a freak thing or an accident, it's a trending occurrence that needs be addressed. Obviously the variables that NASCAR has used for years to control the mayhem and keep fans safe have stopped working. It's time to look at the core of the problem, that these tracks were designed to accommodate the standards of 1960's racing and technology and they've grown past boundaries of being feasibly safe.

  24. well said AJ

  25. Brent Gleason says

    Put everyone in plastic bubbles for their own safety.

  26. so true

  27. amen we can never stop thinking about safety

  28. Shawn Courchesne says

    Brent, that's being simple minded? So the sport should just accept the upward trend of fans regularly being injured by flying debris at Daytona and Talladega and just chalk it up to "that's life, it happens?" Really?

  29. Steve… I would normally agree with you but the sad fact is even though yes it probably could happen at any of these tracks… Distance to the fence is not the issue. Debris from this wreck projected 75+ feet up into the stands… What probably would help would be a secondary fence 5-10 feet off the initial fence in the spectator areas to act as a debris net of sorts… I have no idea how it would be built and no idea how to design it but I think that would be the simplest solution… I may very well be wrong though.

  30. Steve Violette says

    I'm not saying anything like that Shawn. Of course we never want to see anyone hurt at a race, let alone a child. It's unfortunate that safety improvements seem to only evolve from terrible incidents like this one, but do we in effect legislate safety to a point of the elimination of events at these tracks? Maybe I read it wrong but thats what I thought you were suggesting in the article. And how safe can it ever be? The fence post was so strong it ripped the front clip off the racecar. They would have to build a 200ft high fence with posts every 2ft if they really want to improve safety in an incident like yesterdays. Fans won't be able to see through it. Maybe move the stands back? How far? Might as well stay home on the couch and view life remotely. No thanks. I'll take my chances at the track…

  31. Shawn, I submit to you that injuries of fans in the crowd are not limited to the big tracks. Injuries occur not only because of cars partially going through a fence; but also due to parts coming off cars and going over the catch fence. Also in certain circumstances, small pieces through the small fence openings.

    It is an inherent risk taken in our sport, not only by drivers; but by the fan as well. Unfortunately, not many fans read the small print that many tracks have on the back of their tickets. And then, you can only read that small print AFTER you've purchased that ticket.

    To avoid what happened in the NNS race this weekend, is there another safety option open other than not racing on a superspeedway?

    By the way, I was somewhat surprised when I found out when researching for an article some years ago that more driver fatalities happen at small tracks than the larger ones. That really has nothing to do with this subject— just thought I'd throw it in…

  32. There will never be a way to make this sport completely safe for drivers, crews and fans, but that doesn't mean that continued steps shouldn't be taken to make things as safe as possible. Are Shawn's suggestions the best ones? Maybe or maybe not, but the high speed pack racing at the two superspeedways creates too high of a chance for things like yesterday's accident to happen. Yes, the catch fence mostly did its job and kept things from being much worse, but that doesn't help those fans in the hospital today either.

  33. Of course this sport will never be completely safe. Please don't misconstrue my comments to be negative to Shawn, as they weren't meant to be. One person that spoke on Speed last night stated that Daytona currently has the ability to make their catch fences up six feet higher, which would be an obvious help.

    What was also apparent was the professionalism of the rapid response team that Daytona has, and the ongoing training that they go through; something that most weekly short tracks don't, with notable exceptions.

    I think that as time goes on, we will see changes for tracks on the higher levels. There will probably also be changes that we don't see, such as more training for track personnel. But that will only happen at tracks which are willing to spend the money for that type of training, which usually don't include many weekly short tracks. Those are usually the ones that need them the most…

  34. seem to me it happend at stafford

  35. Shawn Courchesne If you`re scared, stay home, if enough people stay away they will lower the banks or close them.

  36. John Andrade III says

    It's called making a point Shawn, something you failed to do in your article. Your article is nothing but a fact-less rant about a form of racing that helped create the sport. Second… next time, write an article using ALL the facts about the topic and maybe you wouldn't have so many negative comments. Good writers don't hold back statistical information for use as a rebuttal when someone attacks their literary piece. As for your last point, dropping 4 of the largest money making races off the schedule is a stupid, knee-jerk reaction, one that we all witnessed the IndyCar Series make last season. There are compromises between never racing there again and not doing anything to fix it. You, however, would rather see NASCAR make the biggest mistake in auto racing history.

  37. Maybe it's time to cut the horsepower down and slow the cars down to where they aren't racing at speeds higher than that required for an aorplane to take off?

  38. Regina Spence says

    I feel terrible for all of the fans injured in the accident at Daytona. NASCAR needs to find a way to keep the cars ON the ground. It seems when one of them is turned backward, they get lift and fly. A catchfence can only do so much. I don't want to see anyone hurt – not the fans, drivers or crew. The roof flaps don't seem to work as well on the COT/Gen6 car as they did on the pre-COT race car.

  39. Kinda sounds like the gun control arguement…

  40. scrape the track down so banking isn't so steep…safer barrier wall will be higher , and higher climb to catch fence…speeds will still be the same just less chance of hitting the catch fence.

  41. Dave Collard says

    Safety holds would be a better option. Is it really necessary for such a large track to have people sitting with the view limited to the front stretch only? Perhaps eliminating the lower level seating and moving the stands farther up and away from the action is a better course of action to take moving forward. Talladega has plenty of empty seating to move people around to and Daytona could as well in a few years with the redesign. Just cover up those seats with signage from sponsors of the race. They do it with Monster Trucks in big stadiums all the time.

  42. Shawn Hancock says

    People pay big $$$ to sit up close @ Monster Jam where as cheap asses sit up close @ Nascar events.

  43. stafford kid says

    Let not forget how many people go to Daytona an dega I been to mville Dover Loudon an dega and every time I talk to a fellow fan about my travels they say you went to Talladega wow how was it no other track gets that reaction and that’s because Daytona and dega are dinosaurs that’s what makes them so great the very name is almost revered I’m from mass I drove to dega to see the biggest and baddest and that’s y people continue to go there for the danger and allure of something that is on the very y edge of insanity and on a bigger scale that’s why I go to every race closing these track’s would be a shame any fan going to these races should be aware of the risks and accept them or don’t go

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