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Nascar Races: A Look at Fan Deaths and Spectator Injuries

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Safety of fences and barriers has been researched and improved.

Safety of fences and barriers has been researched and improved.

Attending a Nascar race is the dream of many fans. The thrill of the motors revving up, the speed, and the wrecks make it an exciting spectator sport. But sometimes that spectator sport turns dangerous for more than just the drivers.

Innocent bystanders and patrons can be hurt during wrecks on the track which happen too close to the stands. Thankfully, these kinds of wrecks are very rare.

Even freak acts of nature can cause accidents and injuries at a Nascar event. Here’s a list of some of the notable wrecks involving fan injuries.

Daytona, July 6, 2015

Everyone wants Dale Jr. to win. He's a fan favorite, the son of a legend and an overall nice guy. But, when he crossed the finish line in the wee hours of the morning on July 6, 2015 (the race was rain delayed for almost five hours), it was not his hard-earned win that fans were watching.

Instead, a spectacular and horrifying wreck was taking place right behind him. As Denny Hamlin gets lose, his car slides under drive Austin Dillon's car, propelling up and over into the catch fence just past the finish line at the Daytona International Speedway. With the fence in tatters and debris flying, five fans were hurt. One had to be taken to the hospital. Others had visible wounds and scratches but refused treatment.

According to USA Today Sports, many of the drivers were furious about the wreck and said again that speeds were too high and that conditions were unsafe for both drivers and fans.

Charlotte, May 26, 2013

A cable holding a TV camera above the Charlotte Motor Speedway track broke for unknown reasons, sending the wiring crashing down onto the track and into the stands near Turn 1.

Ten fans were injured by the falling cable and three were taken to the hospital for observation.

The cable failure caused a red flag caution for the race.

Notably, the cable also severely damaged Kyle Busch's car when he ran over it before the red flag.

The team was allowed to work on the car during the red flag but ultimately ended up not finishing the race.

Texas, April 13, 2013

A spectator camping in the infield during the Texas Motor Speedway Sprint Cup race on April 13, 2013, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The suicide happened around 10:30 PM during the final portion of the race.

Witnesses reported that the man quarreled with some fans in the infield before taking his life.

No others were hurt in the incident.

Daytona, February 23, 2013

During a Saturday Nationwide race, a wreck involving several cars occurred. Kyle Larson's car crashed against the fence, sending debris twenty feet into the stands. According to CNN, fans were lying down after the incident, and some were taken to the hospital.

A total of 28 fans were injured; several were critical. Nascar repaired the fence for the 500 race but said they would investigate further.

A spokesperson said that the barriers and fences still did what they were supposed to do and prevented worse injuries or deaths.

Pocono, August 5, 2012

Race fans were huddling under a tent after a rain delay was called for the afternoon race. A sudden strike of lightning hit the tent, ripping it open. The lightning injured nine and killed one. Though Jeff Gordon later went on to win that race, he said that knowing a fan had died took away from the win.

Talledega, April 26, 2009

Seven fans were injured when Carl Edwards crashed his car into a barrier at the track. Again the retaining fence and barrier wall were credited with preventing worse injuries for the fans and even death. But Edwards felt that the restrictor plates were to blame for the wrecks, saying “We'll race like this until we kill somebody.” Nascar disagreed and said the safety enhancements on the track kept the car where it was supposed to be.

Daytona, February 18, 2000

During the premiere of the Truck series, driver Geoffrey Bodine flipped his truck, causing it to catch on fire as it slammed into and tore out a section of the fence.

After Bobby Allison’s crash (see Talledega 1987) many of the tracks began requiring restrictor plates in order to slow down the cars. But the trucks didn’t have those plates because they did not usually reach those higher, concerning speeds.

A ball of fire rolled along the fence line as debris flew into the stands and injured fans.

Talladega, May 3, 1987

This crash was known as the one that changed racing forever. Bobby Allison’s car flew off the track and into the fence along the stands.

Allison says that shrapnel from his own car caused his tire to burst. As Allison flew through the air, spectators watched in horror.

A steel cable was the only thing keeping him from hitting the stands. After the wreck, the fence separating the track from the stands had a nearly 100-foot gash.

Fans were bloody, and one woman may have lost an eye from the debris caused by the wreck. Nascar implemented tougher guidelines for barriers and fences after this incident.

How Does the SAFER Barrier Work?

The SAFER barrier acts as a multi-layered cushioned wall for the cars. The cement wall hides layers of styrofoam stacked on top of each other. The foam is then sandwiched with another wall made of hollow, steel tubes. This unique design helps to instantly transfer the energy from the crash, reducing the amount of shock that must be absorbed by the car and driver.

What Is a Catch Fence?

A catch fence, as you might guess, is simply any fence designed to catch objects. Catch fences can be created for areas that have rock slide issues, for example.

The catch fences around Nascar tracks are tall, 22 feet at Daytona, and usually made of steel and strong mesh. They are designed to catch cars and debris and guide them back onto the track and away from the stands.

Racetracks Where Notable Fan Injuries Happened

Safety Tips When Attending a Nascar Race

  1. Sit up high. The best seats are up high. They give you a better view and keep you far from the debris.
  2. Don’t linger by the fence. The speed and thrill of the cars as they are racing by make it tempting to linger as your favorite driver races around the track. But you could also put yourself in harm’s way. And at most tracks, it is against the rules.
  3. Watch your alcohol consumption. Drinking too much while you are at the race will cause you to be less likely to make sound decisions and have good judgment. Drink responsibly.
  4. Watch the weather. If there are storms in the area seek shelter under a sturdy roof or in your car.

No Fan Deaths

Nascar is proud of its record of no fan casualties. The Pocono race, while tragic, could hardly be blamed on Nascar.

From the beginning, Bill France felt that spectator safety at Nascar events was so important, that there's never, to date, been a spectator death at a racing event that was caused by negligence on Nascar’s part.

Go See a Race

Attending any modern sporting event involves a certain amount of risks. While millions of fans every year attend races with no problem, it only takes one catastrophic event to remind us all about the danger of this and many other sports.

Nascar continues to look for ways to improve safety for both drivers and fans.

The races are safer than ever for both fans and drivers. Go see a race in person. You won't be sorry.

Does Fan Safety at NASCAR events concern you?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 L C David