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Nascar Races: A Look at Fan Deaths and Spectator Injuries


Laura is an freelance writer living in Florida. She has a Master's degree in English.

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.

Daytona July 2015 Austin Dillon Wreck

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.

Carl Edwards Talladega 2009

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.

The Wreck That Started It All: Bobby Allison 1987

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 your far from the debris.
  2. Don’t linger by the fence. The speed and thrill of the cars as they are racing by makes 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.)

Because Bill France, from the beginning, felt that spectator safety at Nascar events was so important, there has never, to date, been a spectator death at a racing event which 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


L C David (author) from Florida on December 17, 2015:

The crashes can be scary, yes, but the chances of spectator injury keep decreasing. Sitting higher in the stands can help insure you are not in the way of any wreck debris. This article just covers NASCAR races; Indy Cars have their own set of problems, injuries, and deaths. Thanks for stopping by.

Lorenzo from Richmond, VA on December 15, 2015:

Racing is a very dangerous sport and although NASCAR has not had any fan fatalities these things still happen. Not nearly as much as in the early years of the sport when safety took a back seat to entertainment. Although not noted in this Hub fans were killed during a Indy Car race at Charlotte in 1999 when suspension parts flew into the grandstands killing three people. I have attended races at Daytona and the crashes were scary with dust and debris flying into the stands. I will not attend another race at any track larger than a mile due to the danger and the fact that if I'm killed or injured myself or my family won't be compensated because its implied on the race ticket that the spectator assumes all liability to injury or death. I will stick to the local short tracks. Much safer and you can actually see the racing action as opposed to watching it on a big screen TV at the track.

Clay on July 27, 2015:

Yeah, there are dangers at race tracks. The dangers are small though. An average Sprint Cup race has 100,000 fans. There are 36 races every year, entertaining 3.6 million fans. The chances of being injured in the stands are so small that it's not even worth mentioning. There are likely 100 times as many car wrecks on the way to the race track as there are fans being injured in the stands. NASCAR should institute a secret death day, in which they will purposely send a car hurling into the stands, killing a hundred people. That would be big news around the world. Maybe even more people would feel the thrill of it and attend a race. A hundred people being killed in a circuit where 3.6 million people attend per year, or about 200 million since the sport became big in the 1960's, is a small price to pay.

Seriously though, NASCAR does need to make those fences stronger. There have been way too many close calls at Talladega and Daytona. They say the fence has held. Well, it really hasn't. When a car wrecks into a fence it takes the whole fence out. It's just a matter of time before a car goes into the stands, killing hundreds of people. NASCAR stands to make money buy building stronger fences. They could increase the speeds of the cars. These fast tracks is what draws the fans anyway. Slow the speeds down, as some drivers want to do, and people will stop coming. It would be shooting themselves in the foot.

T.R.H. from Haleyville, Alabama on February 25, 2013:

great article! the wrecks within nasacr still pale in comparison to some of those in rally and le mans in the day. yet the wreck Saturday in the nationwide race should convince folks that nascar has just about done everything to the cars that can possibly be done. it is time to look more into protecting the fans from themselves just as much as from the cars. nascar is always been "fan-friendly" and drivers are very approachable, yet we as fans would be sitting in lawn chairs tied to the turn 4 wall if they would allow it.

The seating should be moved somewhat, the catch fences should be doubled with another fence 4-6 ft apart and the barriers should include 'lip' that extends outward ( or cables line a 3-4ft area) out from top of the wall to hold cars down.

again, great article and if just one fan gets hurt it is one too many. nascar will address and get this problem fixed, improved and safer. they have done well so far and expect them to continue

L C David (author) from Florida on February 24, 2013:

Hi DJ and thanks for your comment. I think we're on the same side here. I'm not trying to look too much into anything. I just wanted a brief article about some of the races where fans have had injuries.

I'm not justifying or analyzing the wreck with Larson (although that might make an interesting article!) I agree that the fence helped but I think that a tire landing in the stands means that they will be looking at the fence once again!

From examining the footage, I can see that it looks like the wreck happened near one of the gates that leads down to the tracks.

I love going to races, have been to Daytona several times and set near that very section when I went to the 500 a few years ago. I will say that it is thrilling to feel the speed and the heat from the cars and fun in its own way.

However, at Daytona at least, the lower levels are constantly getting sand, dirt and debris kicked up. Many wear glasses to protect their eyes. It wasn't the best scenario because I had kids there and the constant smokey and sandy debris bothered them. We were much happier after we moved up for the 4th of July race.

So I would still recommend sitting up higher for many reasons but to each his own!

I also agree that no fan should not go because of the worry of injury. The chances are extremely small and that 's part of what this article shows.

Nascar has done a great job of protecting fans. However, after yesterday, with 28 injured, some critically, I'm guessing they will take another look just to see if anything else can be done.

Kyle Ilgenfritz from York, PA on February 23, 2013:

I think you're looking too much into this. Freak accidents happen, and that's what occurred yesterday. Kyle Larson's car got hit from behind as it was already lifting up, thus catapulting him flush into the fence. As far as the fence is concerned, it handled about the worst possible way a car can hit it, and yet still kept the car itself out of the stands.

While the fence does shred the car, and debris can fly into the stands, it is the best solution possible. A solid surface would have a much greater chance of breaking and/or acting as a ramp, thus creating even greater danger.

No fan should think that they're going to get injured if they sit too close because it is that rare of an occurrence. I've sat 4 rows off the track at Martinsville and felt completely safe. Granted there are many more factors involved than proximity, but still I never once felt in danger.

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