The early goings of Sunday night's 600-mile NASCAR race had been pretty low-key until something odd dropped in front of me about Lap 119.
It streaked quickly downward and without a sound - or, at least, the sound was overtaken by the roar of the 40+ NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars. My first thought, as I was watched the drivers sail in to Turn 1 for yet another lap of the Coca-Cola 600, was that a low tracking bird had flown by.
Then everyone in Section C of Charlotte Motor Speedway's Ford Grandstand where I stood with my dad started pointing and waving their arms. About twelve rows in front of my Row 24 seat, a long black cord streaked and stretched diagonally over the crowd (down and away from my left side; up and closer to my right) with one end supported by the track's catch fence.
At the other end, it hung lazily from a crane that once pulled it tight some 30 feet above the grandstand. At the catchfence, the line drooped over and straight down the fence's track side - directly in the path of the pack of race cars racing now at the other end of the track hustling after a recent restart.
The cable was one of three that supported an overhead, remote-controlled camera. The system - used once for Fox's NASCAR television coverage earlier this season at Daytona International Speedway - provides some of the best views based on how fast it can move and it's wide area of coverage. We had watched the camera zip back and forth earlier in the evening, even joining others to wave at it as sports fan do.
In an instant, my mind flashed to the potential danger. My immediate concern was that the cars screaming toward the cable would pull it rapidly, whipping it across the grandstand at head level.
After witnessing the horror of February's last lap Nationwide Series crash at Daytona in person and reporting on the scene as fans were transported away with burns, cuts and other serious injuries, my stomach immediately knotted.
The cars raced toward us on the frontstretch, I grabbed my dad's shoulder, pulled him down and we ducked between the seats.
After the field roared by, we stood up and joined the growing frenzy around us desperately waving and yelling to draw the attention of someone - anyone - who could bring the race to a halt.
No officials seemed to notice. Several fans tossed beers and other items toward the track, hoping the splashes would gain notice.
Still, a second time, the field raced towards us. Fans below us desperately yanked the cord from the track while others scurried out of the way or just simply ducked. Sections of fans all around us continued to holler.
Finally, just as the field passed at speed once more, the caution flag waved. Several cars had impacted the line both in front of our seats and where the other end of the suspended cable. Somehow, it wrapped or tore through many causing substantial cosmetic damage. Pieces of the cord were dragged all around the track. Even the leader, Kyle Busch, had some significant damage.
As the cars stopped on pit road, fans continued to pull the excess cord away from the track. Remarkably, the danger had seemed to pass after about 45 seconds of incredible shock, surprise and concern.
I didn't see any injuries in my immediate vicinity, but track officials later reported 10 fans had been injured with three requiring hospital treatment. All fans were released by early Sunday morning.
After an extensive delay in which NASCAR allowed teams to fix cars damaged by the unheard of failure, the race later resumed. Officials left the camera hanging high above the track on a pair of guide wires - though they did use an extension truck to trim a piece of cable hanging from the apparatus. Caution tape was placed around the area nearest a crane in Turn 1 that suspended the system to keep fans away.
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