DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For the start of Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway, I sat in the second row of the frontstretch grandstands eight seats to the right of the start/finish line. I wasn't assigned to cover the race and opted to join my father to take in the event that always has memorable moments.
On Lap 12, we decided to move in search of a better view and fewer of those damn particulate debris blowing in our unprotected eyes. I was glad to do so, mainly for the view but also because the images of drivers like Carl Edwards and Geoffrey Bodine climbing the wire mesh and steel pole fencing in horrific crashes were in the back of my mind.
The thought had left me, even after the race leaders had finally taken the white flag after a bevy of cautions pushed the event past the expected distance and charged toward our seating location near the end of pit road. It was back, though, after watching Joey Coulter do this from the screen of my iPhone:
Coulter, in the No. 22 truck, was turned into the outside wall on the race's final lap. He caught contact from other trucks in the pack and 180 miles per hour of rushing air to lift his truck airborne and in to the catchfence. It was the only line of defense that stood between the racing surface and the spectators standing eight or so feet away. Coulter's truck rolled once and settled back on the track. He walked away unscathed from the incident.
The crash heavily bent one of the steel poles and ripped several feet of the wire mesh catch fencing. A piece of the sheet metal from Coulter's ride even appeared stuck in the fence.
Fortunately, a quick look at the spectators below me — we had fortunately chosen to stay about 20 rows up instead of down low — appeared to indicate no serious injuries. Reports later said two fans were injured but were expected to be OK. The catchfence worked, despite the extensive repair it will need before race cars return to the track Saturday morning to prepare for Sunday's Daytona 500.
By the way, NASCAR rookie John King was awarded the win after the caution for Coulter's incident ended the race.
As for me, the incident was nearly sensory overload. I've been to well over 75 NASCAR events both as fan and as a young, part-time credentialed media worker, yet I've never seen the raw fury of race vehicles getting so precipitously close to causing a catastrophe on the people there to merely be entertained for a few hours. Race cars getting airborne and in to fences is not a new thing, I know, but seeing it up close is equivalent to a gut punch.
One stray part, one faulty fence post or one stroke of horrible luck and Coulter's incident could have been much more than just standard highlight fodder. I'm just glad he — and mostly everyone else in his potential line of fire — made it through OK.
Now, if I can just get these hands to stop shaking.