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Daytona Truck Race Crash Hurts 11

February 18, 2000

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A terrifying crash at the first-ever truck race at Daytona sent flames and debris into the grandstand today, injuring nine fans and two drivers.

Geoffrey Bodine’s truck slammed into the wall near the finish line at about 190 mph and cartwheeled wildly down the track in flames midway through the Daytona 250.

Thirteen trucks were involved in the wreck, which ripped off part of the safety fence about 10 feet in front of the first row of the stands. Fans scrambled for cover as debris and a ball of fire hurtled toward them.

Bodine, the 1986 Daytona 500 champion who failed to qualify for Sunday’s race, broke an ankle, arm and cheek bone, track spokesman Glyn Johnston said. Bodine was taken to the Halifax Medical Center along with driver Jimmy Kitchens, who was not seriously hurt.

Five fans were treated at the hospital for injuries that included a broken arm, cuts and bruises, and a minor head injury. Four other fans were treated for minor injuries at the track’s care center and released. None of the fans was burned.

Bodine’s Ford disintegrated into an unrecognizable heap of scrap metal in the crash on the front straightaway.

``Pretty scary. To go through that kind of motion in that truck, it’s pretty violent,″ said Todd Bodine, the driver’s brother, who competes in the Busch series.

``I was scared stiff. I’ve seen some bad wrecks, been in a couple bad wrecks. That was probably one of the most violent wrecks you’ll ever see. ... To see something like that just tears your heart out.″

The Craftsman Truck Series race was making its debut at the Daytona International Speedway. The 2 1/2-mile oval is the biggest and fastest track ever run by the 6-year-old series.

Bodine’s truck hit the 3-foot-high wall, which supports the 12-foot-high safety fence, and burst into flames. As it careened down the track, flipping several times along the way, it was hit at least two more times by trucks, causing more flames to shoot out of it.

The engine was torn away from the truck body and landed on the grass in a thick black cloud of smoke.

``There was so much smoke I couldn’t see anything,″ Lonnie Rush said. ``I checked up and everything turned loose. I was hitting the brakes, trying to downshift and do everything you do, and it just started spinning.″

The force of the crash tore about 50 feet of wire mesh away from steel support poles, several of which were also snapped off. The race was delayed about 2 1/2 hours as workers fixed the damage.

The second half was run without any crashes. Mike Wallace won with a thrilling last-lap pass of Andy Houston. The race was extremely competitive with a series-record 31 lead changes among 12 drivers.

The crash on the 57th of 100 laps caused the fifth caution of the race. The accident and earlier crashes took out about half of 36 starters.

``Worst wreck I’ve ever seen, by far,″ said B.A. Wilson, who got caught up in the tail end of the accident. ``I thought Bodine was dead.″

Wilson was standing over the engine that had been pulled from his truck. His truck was like most involved in the wreck _ mangled beyond recognition, the sheet metal stripped away from the front with little more than a warped roll bar remaining.

The crash was similar to one by Winston Cup driver Bobby Allison at Talladega, Ala., in May 1987. As a result of that crash, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates on carburetors to reduce speeds at Talladega and Daytona, its two biggest and fastest tracks.

The trucks, however, were not considered fast enough to warrant them, although they still approached 190 mph at Daytona. Winston Cup cars ran over 210 mph without the plates.

Injuries to fans have been a major concern for NASCAR since Allison’s crash in Talladega. A woman lost an eye after being hit by debris from Allison’s car after it flew into the air and tore down nearly 100 feet of fencing.

There have been no spectator deaths in modern NASCAR events, but the open-wheel circuits have not been as fortunate.

In July 1998, three fans were killed and six others injured at Michigan Speedway when a tire and suspension pieces from a crash during a CART race flew into the stands.

Only 10 months later, three fans were killed and eight others injured at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., from flying debris at a wreck during an Indy Racing League event.

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