Scary day ends with best possible results
by Ron Buck,

Friday, Feb. 18
When they drop the green for the Daytona 500, you are not going to see what you've seen in the past -- one big group running around the track.

These cars just aren't handling the way drivers would love them to be, and because of the shock rule you are going to see smaller packs. When a driver's car starts to go away from him, he's going to see the pack pull away. And when that happens, they better find some help from a car behind them to catch back up.

So you are going to see a little different Daytona 500. And the pit strategy is going to play a huge role in the winner of the race.

The big wood on Sunday will be "adjustability." It used to not be that way in February, when the weather is usually cooler. But here it's going to be the guy who can make his car the best after 50 laps, after 100 laps, after 150 laps, who's going to be the winner.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In an instant, the eery silence fell over the Daytona International Speedway. It lasted two hours and 24 minutes. Then, the roar of the Craftsman Truck Series returned at just after 3 p.m. ET.

And the racing continued.

But in the moments that followed Friday's violent 10-truck crash, finishing the inaugural Daytona 250 was secondary in the minds of most. The health of 10 drivers -- specifically Geoffrey Bodine, who was sent into a violent, fiery, 11-roll trip down the front straightaway and into the restraining fence -- was suddenly the focus at an area hospital.

Then, word came that four spectators had also been sent to the hospital with injuries. And suddenly the visions of Fontana, Charlotte and Michigan came flowing back.

  • Oct. 31, 1999: CART driver Greg Moore is killed after his car smashes into the inside restraining wall in the season-ending race at Fontana, Calif.,.

  • May 1, 1999: Three spectators are killed at an IRL race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and eight other are injured, when debris from a crash flies into the stands.

  • Juy 26, 1997: Three spectators are killed, and six are injured, at Michigan Speedway when Adrian Fernandez's tire flies into the stands at the start of the U.S. 500.

    Bodine's crash was every bit as brutal as those of Rusty Wallace's and Dale Earnhardt's at Daytona in the '90s. It reminded everyone of Davey Allison's Talladega dance with the "Lady in Black" in 1987.

    When Bodine finally came to rest, any characteristics of a truck was gone. The engine sat in the infield grass -- some 400 yards from his sheared machine. Bodine sat only in a cage on the track.

    About 15 minutes after the crash, Bodine was pried out of his seat and placed on a stretcher. His arm could be seen moving, which was a good sign. Attention shifted to the injured fans, the other nine drivers involved in the crash, and Jimmy Kitchens, who was also taken to the hospital.

    About an hour after the crash, the best news of the day arrived at the Daytona International Speedway infield media center: No life-threatening injuries to drivers or fans. The most serious injuries: broken bones and lacerations.

    NASCAR's safety measures worked as well as any official could have hoped, limiting the main carnage to sheet metal and chain link. The truck's steal cage kept Bodine secure and track's restraining fence kept his Ford out of harms way.

    "The good news is the systems did their jobs," said track president John Graham, referring to the catch fence and roll cage in the truck. "Some debris got into the stands and there were some injuries. But no serious injuries and fortunately, it appears everyone will be OK."

    Bodine suffered a fracture to a mid-back vertebra, a broken wrist and facial lacerations. Doctors said no surgery would be needed and Bodine said he'd be back on the track this season. Kitchens was alert and stable undergoing tests at the hospital. The five fans who were taken to the hospital suffered only cuts, bruises and broken bones. Three were released Friday night, while one was undergoing surgery for a broken arm and another cosmetic surgery for a facial cut.

    As for the drivers not involved in the incident, they were faced with going out on the track again -- returning to the scene of the accident 43 more times as they entered Turn 1.

    "It tries on you a little bit at the start. But once we found out Geoff was OK, that he was going to live, it makes you feel a little more at ease," said Andy Houston, who finished third behind Kurt Busch and winner Mike Wallace. "But it tries on you, just like anyone. We're all human and you don't really feel like you want to go on. But once we knew Geoff was OK, we just prayed the fans were too, and had to continue."

    "(But), It was a real reality check for everyone."


    "I think Earnhardt will happy now. He won something at Daytona. He was crying about the other deal. The other guys just drafted by me -- sometimes you get lined up with them, sometimes you don't.
    -- Jarrett finished 8th in the IROC race.

    "I got racing with a couple of those cats, and got myself way in the back. I thought I was going to lose the draft. I gained six positions (by the end), that wasn't real bad. I'll have to make it up the next time.
    -- Wallace started 12th and finished sixth in the IROC race.

    "I was trying to push Jeff Burton into the lead there -- we were running second and third at the time -- and I wish Tony (Stewart) had given me some help at the end. But that's the way these races go. You can't predict who's going to help who."
    --Martin finished fourth in the IROC race.

    A little play-by-play
    As Mike Wallace was conducting his post-race news conference, the final laps of the IROC race were unfolding on the TVs in the press box and media center. Noticing the action on the track and the lack of attention he was getting with reporters watching Dale Earnhardt race to victory, Wallace decided to do his best race call.

    "Well, the blue car (Earnhardt) is on the top of the track and the beige car (Jeff Burton) is on the bottom of the track," said Wallace. "And a shocker at Daytona! Dale Earnhardt wins the IROC race at Daytona!"

    The call got a good laugh from reporters, who thanked Wallace for his insight and then continued with their truck questions.

    One and counting
    If winning were the only thing that counted to owner Junie Donlavey, he would have been out of the car-racing business long ago.

    Instead, Donlavey is one of the iron men of NASCAR. On Sunday, his team will field a car in a Winston Cup race for the 809th time, a span dating to 1950. Donlavey's cars have made it to Victory Lane once.

    Donlavey remembers when NASCAR was a simpler sport.

    "In 1959 we came down here, we had a group with a guy who had bought a T-bird," he said. "He lived in Orlando and was a doctor, so we were down here with him."

    It's not so simple anymore, but Donlavey has perservered amid a climate of big business and multi-car conglomerates.

    "I never let any of this ever be stressful for the simple reason that I got in racing in 1949 for fun," Donlavey said. "If you're going to sit around and worry every minute of the day about how good you're going to run, then, if you do run good, you don't experience a good feeling because you worry too much about it."

    Rookie Ed Berrier will drive for him Sunday, one of more than 50 drivers who have taken the wheel for the well-traveled owner.

    Brotherly Love
    Thanks to his brother's luck, racing fan Jamie Smith will ride in the pace car for the Daytona 500.

    It was Smith's stepbrother, Aaron Smith, who won the contest when he found the winning game piece on the lid of a jar of Pace Picante Sauce. But Aaron Smith is in the Army and was unable to make it to Florida for the race.

    He designated Jamie as his replacement.

    "I love my brother and I'm glad I can give him this present," Aaron Smith said.

    No Joe

    Craftsman Truck pole winner Joe Ruttman didn't get knocked out of the race by the multi-car accident, but he might as well have.

    He received damage to the front of his truck in the accident that eventually knocked him out of the race.

    Ruttman, 55, who cooked for his wife's catering service while out of racing last year, finished 19th. He exited the race with engine trouble eight laps after the restart.

    "When we banged up the nose of the truck, this team worked so hard to get it back together and able to race," Ruttman said. "But after the red flag period, we had a problem with the truck overheating. We know we are going to win more poles this season and we are going to win more races."

    Pit Stops ...
    Ron Hornaday led Busch Grand National drivers in their final practice before Saturday's race, turning a fast lap of 189.263. Buckshot Jones was second at 189.259. ... Bill Elliott led the Winston Cup drivers with a practice lap of 194.351. Michael Waltrip was next at 194.381. ... Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of the fastest Daytona 500. Buddy Baker won the 1980 race with an average speed of 177.602 mph. The year before, Baker had a car that many considered unbeatable. But it suffered a mechanical failure as it was approaching the green flag and wound up finishing just one lap. news wires contributed to this report.

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