At least 33 fans were injured Saturday during a NASCAR race when a car flew into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, hurling a tire and large pieces of debris into the stands.
The accident happened on the last lap of the second-tier Nationwide Series race on the eve of the Daytona 500, which officials said would go on as scheduled.
The crash began as the field closed in on the finish line and sent rookie Kyle Larson’s car sailing into the fence that separates the track from the seats.
Large chunks of Larson’s car landed in the grandstands. The car itself had its entire front end sheared off, with the burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence.
Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said 14 fans were treated on site, and 14 fans were taken to local hospitals.
Local officials said 19 fans were taken to neighboring hospitals, including two who were in critical condition but were later upgraded to stable.
The accident happened the day before the Sprint Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl. Daytona workers could be seen repairing the large section of fence where Larson’s car hit, as well as the wall that was damaged in the accident.
“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with our race fans,” Chitwood said. “Following the incident we responded appropriately according to our safety protocols, and had emergency medical personnel at the incident immediately.
“We’re in the process of repairing the facility and will be ready to go racing tomorrow.”
As emergency workers tended to injured fans and ambulance sirens wailed in the background, a somber Tony Stewart skipped the traditional post-race victory celebration.
Stewart, who won for the 19th time at Daytona and seventh time in the last nine season-opening Nationwide races, was in no mood to celebrate.
“We’ve always known … this is a dangerous sport,” Stewart said. “But it’s hard. We assume that risk, but it’s hard when the fans get caught up in it.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. topped the speed chart for the final practice session before today’s season-opening Daytona 500.
The 2004 Daytona 500 champion turned the fastest lap by averaging 198.592 mph around the 21/2 -mile superspeedway. David Gilliland was second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola.
Pole-sitter Danica Patrick and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Stewart were among 10 drivers who skipped the final tuneup.
Doug Kalitta raced to the No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel at the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Ariz.
Kalitta had a track-record run of 3.733 seconds at 329.02 mph for his 32nd No. 1 and second at the event.
Kalitta will face Spencer Massey today in the first round of eliminations, bidding to give team owner Connie Kalitta a victory on his 75th birthday.
Johnny Gray topped the Funny Car field, and Mike Edwards led the Pro Stock division. Gray earned will meet defending event winner Robert Hight in the first round.