DAYTONA BEACH, Fla -- A terrific NASCAR Nationwide Series race turned tragic in its last few hundred feet Saturday at Daytona International Speedway when a race car crashed violently into the catchfence and injured several fans.
At least nine ambulances rushed to the rear of the Campbell Grandstand as emergency workers rushed to help fans injured in the rows closest to the track after Kyle Larson's car violently tore through the fence, leaving his engine and tire behind. Other safety workers evacuated the scene of race fans.
In the front row of the grandstand about 20 feet past where Larson's engine had stuck, emergency responders wearing firesuits and helmets attended to several fans sitting old metal chairbacks. Stretchers were being rolled in from ambulances arriving behind the grandstands while police and other track security ushered other fans from the scene.
Fans were both shocked and gawking at the accident scene that happened just minutes before when Larson's car got airborne and hit nose first in the catchfence designed to keep fans safe. His car spun wildly to the infield and came to a rest, leaving two major support poles bent and a smoking, flaming mess. Fans, about ten rows up, quickly waved to emergency personnel for assistance after a tire apparently had flown through the metallic netting.
One woman wearing a Jimmie Johnson shirt appeared to have a foot injury as she was wheeled on a gurney to a waiting ambulance. An older man, wearing an oxygen mask, also appeared to have suffered a leg injury while laying on a stretcher. Another gurney transported a man in a neck support wearing a sling over his left arm. All appeared to be conscious.
"The engine came right through the fence, injuring about six people," said an Daytona International Speedway supervisor, speaking under the condition of anonymity.
He also said a tire hit one spectator and that others had suffered burns from the hot fluids the spewed from the engine.
A call from an employee's radio later indicated that several race fans had transported themselves to nearby hospitals for evaluation of injuries.
"Right now, it's just a function of determining what damage is done," NASCAR president Mike Helton said in an interview on ESPN. "They're moving some folks to care centers and to Halifax (hospital)."
Dewey Goodwin, from Tampa, Fla., was walking in along the frontstretch when the accident erupted on the last lap.
"I was coming this way to see the end of the race, and it happened right there," Goodwin said. "I didn't know 15 cars were gonna come sideways and all blown up. I was like 'Ah, man, that ain't no good.'"
Jason Daniels of Orlando, Fla., was attending the race with his wife and two kids. They were seated just a few rows above the accident scene.
"There were some people that were saying it hit a camera person who was sitting right there, but I didn't see that," Daniels said. "I've never seen anything like that."
It was the second time in two years that a race at Daytona had a last lap melee that sent a vehicle spinning into the metal catchfence. Last year, Joey Coulter crashed his Camping World Truck Series vehicle about 300 yards from the sight of Saturday's accident scene, sending parts and pieces into the stands. No fans were seriously injured, but reports said two were treated at a local hospital. Neither Coulter or Larson were injured in their violent crashes.